Q&A with Kim Bennion, BSRT, MSHS-PH, RRT. CHC, Respiratory Therapist and Corporate Healthcare Compliance Program Manager at Intermountain Healthcare
Kim Bennion is an RRT and Program Manager in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has an AS from Rose State College in Midwest City, Oklahoma; BSRT from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah; MSHS-PH from Trident University in Cypress, California; and is certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC). Kim is on the Utah Society for Respiratory Care's Board of Directors, volunteers, and would like other RTs to be "involved in the communities in which they practice."
Q: What motivated you to become a respiratory therapist?
A: My parents were smokers with recurrent lung problems. I wanted to participate in the acute treatment of lung disease but have come to realize how paramount support for early prevention, health promotion programs and patient education regarding smoking cessation has on lung health.
Q: Can you talk about where you work?
A: Intermountain Healthcare is a healthcare organization comprised of twenty-three acute care hospitals, physicians and clinics across Utah and southern Idaho. I have worked in the corporation's pediatric, newborn and adult Intensive Care Units for over 30 years. Currently, I am a Corporate Healthcare Compliance Program Manager with oversight for adherence of state and federal healthcare regulations within the corporation.
Q: When and how did you start at Intermountain Healthcare?
A: I graduated with my associate's degree in respiratory therapy and took a job with the company in Utah. I have been with the Intermountain for 30 years where I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings. Some of the more fascinating assignments have been in non-traditional RT roles.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: My main duties involve oversight for auditing and monitoring of compliance regulations at hospitals within the corporation. My oversight responsibilities include all dimensions of healthcare across multiple disciplines (nursing, physicians, respiratory therapists, etc.). Some of the more recent projects have involved Order Authentication, Physician Supervision and adherence to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). From my office, we develop educational newsletters and assist with the coordination of regional surveys and monitoring activities.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a respiratory professional, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: Professionally speaking, I just received my MS in Public Health. As an RRT, my husband (who is an RN) and I created a lung health promotion program. We began in 1997 and have been volunteering in afterschool programs for elementary and middle schools ever since. We include the making of lung models, a discussion of anatomy and physiology, bovine lung dissection and discussions regarding smoking prevention/cessation as well as increasing awareness of the impact of pollution on overall lung health. To date, this has been out of our own pockets, but I would like to apply for some grant funding. I am on the Utah Society for Respiratory Care's Board of Directors and would also like to involve other RTs in the field as a "reach out" opportunity to be involved in the communities in which they practice.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in your job?
A: Healthcare regulation is changing at a faster pace than ever before. We are being asked to define/utilize best practice, report quality outcomes and literally do more with less. Respiratory therapists are in a unique position to impact preventable disease states, namely COPD, in a way that no other discipline can. Untold studies report the negative impact on "risky behaviors" such as smoking on overall health. These include chronic lung disease and cardiac disease. For too long, healthcare has focused on treating these diseases after they were present. We have forgotten the impact of an "ounce of prevention." Health promotion, prevention and education will be paramount in decreasing risky behavior practices, preventing chronic diseases and thus decreasing the financial drain these diseases have on healthcare funding.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I enjoy the variety of projects, but there never seems to be enough time to get everything I need to do/want completed. Most sincerely, I would truly like more time to work in the community, especially in high-risk areas.
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects?
A: I have published 24 abstracts via the AARC on bronchiolitis care, obstructive sleep apnea screening and general RT best practice.
Q: Are there any projects that you would like to be involved with?
A: Professionally: Our corporation is attempting to address the whole concept of Accountable Care Organizations. I know RT is striving to standard practices across the corporation with the utilization of evidence-based best practice. Only through the utilization of data input, extraction, analysis and program revisions will the goal be realized. I am excited to be part of that process.
Personally: I have participated in suicide prevention strategies with incarcerated citizens. Research is rich regarding suicides and self-harm in prisons. My thesis project focused on these maladies in US jails. I was alarmed to discover the demographics of those most at risk were Caucasian males between 18-55 years of age during two to seven days of incarceration. My project involved early assessment, intervention and peer counseling. This is one of those topics for which I wish I had more time to donate, even in a volunteer capacity.
Q: Do you feel that the role of RRTs has changed over recent years?
A: Absolutely. Critical thinking skills and thinking outside the box is paramount. Increased educational levels will help us stand toe-to-toe with other healthcare providers. The need for mid-level RT providers is increasing. While some bemoan the seemingly over-regulation of healthcare, I see it as a challenge for us to identify and implement the most effective interventions. This is true whether we are functioning in acute care or preventative healthcare.
I have been actively involved in RT membership recruitment and legislation in our state. I have to shout a cry for more active participation in our professional organization. We must either step up to the plate in regards to professionalism, or healthcare will leave us behind!
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to respiratory therapists today?
A: Respiratory therapists care for some of the healthcare profession's most critical patients. The demand for RTs with critical thinking skills has never been higher. We must not only be able to perform detailed physical assessments, but must be able to apply our findings in determining the most medically appropriate interventions. Communication of such to other disciplines is vital. If we are to be seen as true contributors to improved patient outcomes, active participation on medical care teams and in our professional organization cannot be over emphasized.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I wear two hats. First and foremost, I am a respiratory therapist. My job, however, is that of a Healthcare Compliance Project Manager. It requires that I see the "bigger picture" and assist in the identification of risk, creation of corrective actions to close gaps and ongoing auditing and monitoring for sustained compliance. Seeing the true measures of success in decreasing risk is most rewarding professionally. Personally, my hours volunteering are truly the most rewarding.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: Evidence-based practice, outcome measures and reporting, as well as the development of critical thinking skills are paramount for success in the profession. It is often a key contributing factor to a patient's improvement.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of entering respiratory therapy?
A: Do it! Get your master's right away, and don't be afraid to think outside the box in finding solutions to professional challenges, whether it be patient challenges, equipment challenges or someone saying, "You just can't do it that way."
Q: How has working in respiratory care allowed you to grow professionally?
A: I have seen RTs move from "oxygen jockeys" to evidence-based clinicians with expanded roles. These roles have included even non-traditional roles for me personally: Quality Care Assessment Team Manager, Conscious Sedation Team Member in a pediatric Rapid Treatment Unit (anesthesiologist, RN and RRT), author, publisher, volunteer for health promotion and educator.
Q: What do you see as the future of respiratory therapy?
A: While debates rage on about the best strategies for addressing healthcare challenges of our day, I am thrilled that such attention is given to quality outcome measures and reporting. To me, this time in history is ripe to finally progress from reactive to proactive healthcare. Respiratory therapists are in a unique position to lead the way in health promotion and prevention. While I feel reimbursement for programs such as smoking cessation and pulmonary rehabilitation are under-funded, it is my professional opinion that programs such as this are coming to light as pivotal for the prevention of chronic diseases that continue to strain existing healthcare dollars. Now is the time for creative thinking and reproducible outcome measures and reporting. RTs need to become active drivers of healthcare rather than passive passengers on the healthcare "bus."
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