Veteran Respiratory Therapist Develops ‘Respiratory Therapist to Home’ Program

Kelly Long, respiratory Therapist at McLaren Lapeer Region
With a passion for enhancing the lives of patients, veteran respiratory therapist (RT) Kelly Long reduced pulmonary readmission rates at McLaren Lapeer Region by spearheading a Respiratory Therapist to Home program.

In 2018, McLaren Lapeer Region had a 27% readmission rate for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients within a 31-day span. To improve this statistic, the idea was posed to provide in-home respiratory therapy to post-acute pulmonary patients. Brian Wicker, director of Respiratory Care, Sleep, and Wound Services at McLaren Lapeer Region, ran with the idea and applied for a grant to fund the proposed program.

Shortly after Wicker’s submittal, the grant was approved, and a job opening was posted for the program’s lead respiratory therapist. But the position sat empty. No therapist wanted to risk their current position on a grant-funded position. It looked like the Respiratory Therapist to Home program had hit a dead end.

It was at a corporate event a few months later that Wicker presented his new program to Long, who, at the time, was working in Cardiac Diagnostics. Already frustrated by the lack of accessible respiratory care, Long saw this as an opportunity to put respiratory therapist boots on the ground in uncharted yet crucial territory.

“When I accepted the job, I knew that it was going to be a challenge, but I was motivated to change the way we deliver healthcare,” said Long. Long designed the Respiratory Care to Home program to provide patients with in-home respiratory therapy for a span of 31 days. Within that timeframe, the average patient received four, one-hour home visits.

“The initial home visit is when the respiratory therapist creates an optimized wellness plan for the patient. The following visits adhere to that plan and typically consist of breathing mechanics coaching, medication review, and anxiety-relieving techniques,” said Long. According to Long, providing post-acute pulmonary patients with the support they need is crucial. “When the patient feels safe, supported, educated, and empowered at home, the likelihood of them returning to the emergency room is lowered.”

Through her home visits, Long noted distinct factors that lead to the readmission of pulmonary patients, from financial, environmental, compliance, transportation, and technological. It became clear to her that these all-too-common obstacles could be overcome with the advocacy of a health care professional.

“In this program, the respiratory therapist monitors the patient’s overall health and makes referrals accordingly,” said Long. “Most COPD patients suffer from multiple conditions, not just pulmonary. These in-home visits allow the respiratory therapist to tend to the pulmonary needs of the patient while holding the patient responsible for their overall wellbeing.”

Within the first year of the program, pulmonary readmission rates decreased from 27% to 9%. Now in its third year, the Respiratory Therapy to Home program is going strong, continuing to succeed in its mission of decreasing pulmonary readmissions at McLaren Lapeer Region.

Since its initiation, the program has expanded and currently provides patients, including Medicare patients, 91 days (3 months) of in-home care. The number of pulmonary readmissions remains 9% since the program’s extended 91-day visitation span.

To date, the program has received 100% satisfaction scores from patients.