Elite Therapists

Vol.12 •Issue 9 • Page 40
Elite Therapists

ADVANCE Honors Winners of 2003 National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition

We asked, and you responded. ADVANCE received 50 percent more entries in our third annual National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition compared to last year.

This outpouring of interest demonstrates the massive amount of good works done by respiratory managers, practitioners and departments across the country.

The following profiles represent the best the field has to offer. And according to our judges, these select few take respiratory care to new heights — one breath at a time.


In the opening seconds of her interview with ADVANCE, Rachel Steele, RRT, RCP, gave a pre-emptive apology. The winner of our National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition for Best Manager almost always keeps her office door open for her staff, and someone could pop in at any moment to ask a question.

No interruptions this time, but her dedication to her employees and patients explains why she doesn’t often get a couple minutes of silence.

Steele, manager of pulmonary services, St. Dominic’s Hospital, Manteca, Calif., will stay up all night with a dying patient’s family to console them and offer her support. She describes end-of-life care as her “passion” and appreciates the important role that respiratory therapy plays in this cycle.

“You see life come in, and you see life go out,” said Steele, a 12-year veteran of the field. “And it all can be beautiful if you make it that way.”

Also, she’s ready to lend a hand when her staff needs help on the floor. “I love being a respiratory therapist, and I miss it a lot,” Steele said. “When I get the chance, I put my scrubs on and work side by side with them.”

Her employees truly appreciate her hands-on and close-knit approach, said Madge Morris, CRT, RCP, the staff RT who nominated Steele for this award.

Steele always will come to them when looking for ways to improve a procedure at their facility, Morris said. “Rachel approaches every change in an ‘us/we’ fashion.”

Steele’s recent accomplishments include reducing the rate of ventilator-associated pneumonia and the number of bronchoscopies performed a month from 30 to five. Updating the department’s equipment and improving quality of care through education proved to be the key.

In addition to her valued team approach and upgrades in patient care, Steele goes to great lengths to celebrate the staff, Morris said. She has taken out all 33 RTs to a nice dinner and on other occasions sent thank-you cards to their homes. Steele even has showed off her journalism skills.

“During Respiratory Week, Rachel wrote what looked like a newspaper article and posted it all over the hospital,” Morris said. “It was a full-page spread, and it mentioned every single respiratory therapist, saying something special about each one us. Rachel says it’s her job to make us shine, and we shine, but her light shines the brightest.”

Steele remains humble about receiving so much praise. “You are only as good as the people you lead.”


She may not be as famous as fellow Cornhuskers Fred Astaire or Johnny Carson, but Jane Wilwerding Matsui, BS, RRT-NPS, has quite a reputation within Nebraska’s respiratory care community.

In May, she celebrated victory as a member of Nebraska’s winning Sputum Bowl team. Then the Nebraska Society for Respiratory Care named her Therapist of the Year.

To these accolades, ADVANCE adds another: Matsui is our Best Practitioner of 2003.

She wins because more than 30 years as an RT haven’t quelled her thirst to help people or diminished her drive to excel. “I still take a lot of enjoyment from patient care and impacting lives,” said Matsui, a clinical specialist in respiratory care services for the Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Neb. “It’s good karma.

“Anytime you can improve someone’s quality of life or increase their ability to withstand trying circumstances, you enrich your own life. I was raised that way.”

For Matsui, befriending patients is its own reward, for example the ventilator-dependent man with muscular dystrophy whom she finally convinced to venture forth from the protective shell of his house. The man later traveled 60 miles to attend Matsui’s 40th birthday party.

“I can think of people I still interact with after 20 years,” she said. “I haven’t done home care in 16 years, and I’m still getting Christmas cards from these people.”

What also earns Matsui “the admiration of countless therapists,” in her supervisor’s words, is her dedication to education. She has chaired the Nebraska Society’s program and education committee, initiated several staff development programs for the Nebraska Medical Center, and still coordinates the clinical education of two local respiratory care programs.

“Not attaining credentials is professionally foolish,” said Matsui, who entered the field as an OJT in the 1970s, later earning a BS in respiratory care (and making the dean’s list). “In our department, you have two years to sit for the RRT exam or consider looking for another job. … My education has enabled me to more effectively communicate and strategically plan on how to deal with certain circumstances.”

Matsui now is pursuing a master’s degree in public health from Nebraska Methodist College to widen her healing influence. For instance, she wants to promote asthma education in the Omaha area, which has the second highest incidence of asthma fatalities in the nation. She also has her sights on becoming a Fellow of the American Association for Respiratory Care.

None of Matsui’s ambitions threatens to remove her from day-to-day patient care, however. “I will probably stay an RT ’til the day I die,” she said.


The University of California San Diego Medical Center’s respiratory therapists’ ability to think on their feet helped them put .their hands on the 2003 Best Department award.

The top-flight department focuses on patient-driven protocols (PDPs) to simultaneously improve patient care and save costs. Prior to the implementation of PDPs, the respiratory care department provided 8,000 chest physiotherapy and aerosol treatments, associated with $75,000 to $125,000 of direct variable expense, each month.

“Using the AARC clinical practice guidelines for CPT and aerosol therapy, it was determined that at least 30 percent of these treatments were being administered without medical indications,” said Jan Phillips-Clar, BS, RRT, technical director of UCSD respiratory care services. Within the first six months of the protocols, the department reduced the use of aerosol therapy and CPT by 60 percent.

UCSD staff said the protocols helped in another way: They give therapists a voice in patient care. “We’ve become part of the decision-making team,” said Phil Panzarella, RRT, ICU critical care staff therapist at UCSD for 20 years.

Recognizing employees’ contributions is key to the department’s high level of motivation. For example, the department produces a newsletter and a $250 team spirit award each quarter.

A point system called the Extra Mile Incentive Program (EMAP) rewards RTs for other voluntary activities that contribute value to the department or patients. “This system recognizes staff within the respiratory care department who demonstrated a willingness to participate in a variety of activities, including provision of instruction, assisting with new employee orientation, working extra shifts, relief team leading, cross-site rotations, and many other valued behaviors,” Phillips-Clar said.

EMAP spot recognition cards can be used at any time to reward peers for going the extra mile. During 2002, the EMAP awarded nearly $10,000 in cash to more than 70 staff members.

Rick Ford, BS, RRT, FAARC, director of respiratory care services at UCSD, is proud of his staff’s consistent excellence.

“This award means a lot to us,” he said. “It’s fantastic whenever a group gets together and says, ‘I like what you’re doing and want to tell everyone you’re doing a nice job.’ It feels great.”

Mike Bederka, ADVANCE assistant editor; Mike Gibbons, ADVANCE senior associate editor; and Shawn Proctor, ADVANCE associate editor, contributed to this article.


Rachel Steele, RRT, RCP
Manager of Pulmonary Services
St. Dominic’s Hospital, Manteca, Calif.


Jane Wilwerding Matsui, BS, RRT-NPS
Clinical Specialist
Respiratory Care Services
Nebraska Medical Center,
Omaha, Neb.


The University of California San Diego Medical Center


Best Manager: Billie Speakman, BS, RRT, Christiana Care Health System, Newark, Del.; Susan Strauss, RRT, Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital, Lehighton, Pa.

Best Practitioner: Lisa Petty, RCP, RRT, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, Calif.; Jason Beckett, RRT, CPFT, BS, Mercy San Juan Medical Center, Carmichael, Calif.

Best Department: Respiratory Therapy Services, Community Health Care – Wausau Hospital, Wausau, Wis.; Respiratory Care Department, Christiana Care Health System, Newark, Del.


Judges for the 2003 ADVANCE National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition were: Lawrence F. Mann, RRT, RCP, director of respiratory care at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network, Allentown, Pa.; Gaylene Mooney, BAAS, RRT-NPS, director of clinical education of respiratory care at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Area Health Education Center-Southwest, Texarkana, Ark.; and Karen Burton, RN, RRT, administrative director of respiratory care services at Primary Children’s Medical Center, Salt Lake City. All were winners in last year’s competition.


ADVANCE solicited submissions from readers around the country for best manager, best practitioner and best department. Short-answer essays describing how participants have demonstrated excellence in respiratory care helped our judges pick the winners. The best department won a $1,000 prize; the top manager and practitioner each received $500 prizes.