Top Managers Carry Profession to New Heights

Vol. 16 •Issue 22 • Page 16
Top Managers Carry Profession to New Heights

There are a select few respiratory therapy managers who carry the profession to new heights, literally one breath at a time. And nowhere is that more visible than when we look at the contestants for the ADVANCE National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition, now in its third year.

ADVANCE received 50 percent more entries this year compared to last. And the nominations reflect a major outpouring of tributes to the excellent work done by respiratory managers, practitioners and departments across the country every day of the year.

Certainly the managers who surfaced at the top in this year’s Best Manager Division are among the top individuals the field has to offer, according to our judges. Others nominated have earned the respect and admiration of their peers, so a nomination itself represents a reflection of a job well done.


In the opening seconds of her interview with ADVANCE, Rachel Steele, RRT, manager of pulmonary services at St. Dominic’s Hospital, Manteca, Calif., gave a pre-emptive apology, explaining there may be interruptions ahead in the conversation.

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, she explained.

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 is the type of exemplary caregiver who 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 that cycle.

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

The compassionate therapist is always 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 on my scrubs and work side by side with them.”

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

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

Among her recent accomplishments, Steele has reduced the incidences of ventilator-associated pneumonia in the hospital 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.

Steele also goes to great lengths to celebrate the staff, Morris said. She has taken out all 33 RTs to a nice dinner. On numerous occasions, she has sent thank-you cards to their homes, calling attention to outstanding performance. Also, Steele occasionally shows off some top writing 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 explained.


For patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the activities of daily living can make life almost unbearable. Coupled with the unforgiving sun of a summer heat wave, the disease can tighten its deadly grip on breathing-impaired patients even more.

Honorable mention winner Billie Speakman, BS, RRT, director of respiratory care at Christiana Care Health System, Newark, Del., went “above and beyond” to set up a patient discharge.

Speakman and her husband installed an air conditioning unit at a COPD patient’s house prior to his arrival home, noted nominator Patty Resnik, MBA, RRT, director of case and disease management, at Christiana Care Health System.

This is the type of dedication to patient care that makes Speakman stand above the rest, Resnik said. “Her willingness to collaborate with other health care professionals, her desire to promote respiratory care, and her eagerness to pursue opportunities to improve the services provided by her staff are excellent examples for other department managers and directors to follow.”

Honorable Mention

The other honorable mention winner, Susan Strauss, RRT, director of the respiratory care, cardiology, vascular, neurology and ultrasound departments at Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital, Lehighton, Pa., needs several racks to hold all the hats she wears.

She serves on numerous hospital committees, including the intensive care unit, code blue, physician liaison and the charity ball panels.

Free time always has been in short supply, and it won’t arrive soon either. Through her efforts, the hospital won a $75,000 grant to diagnose and treat northeastern Pennsylvania coal miners for black lung disease.

The 29-year Gnaden Huetten veteran has plans to open a sleep lab there as well.

“She is constantly looking for innovative ways to meet today’s health care challenges, cost containment ideas that do not jeopardize patient care, and therapist input on how to serve our patients better,” summed up nominator Ronald Roth, CRT, staff therapist at Gnaden Huetten.

The first place winner in this category will receive a $500 award from ADVANCE. All of the top finishers are awarded plaques calling attention to the honor.

2003 ADVANCE Best Managers

First Place

Rachel M. Steele, RRT
St. Dominic’s Hospital
Manteca, Calif.

Honorable Mention
Billie Speakman, BS, RRT
Christiana Care Health System
Newark, Del.

Susan Strauss, RRT
Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital
Lehighton, Pa.

Meet The Judges

Judges for the 2003 ADVANCE National Respiratory Achievement Awards Competition include:

• 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.

All winners received a wall plaque, commemmorating their wins.