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SDSU to lead $1.545 million BREATHE-SD project, partner with area hospitals


South Dakota State University is partnering with hospitals in Brookings, Huron and Madison to expand the public health and respiratory therapy workforce.

The Community Practice Innovation Center within the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions at SDSU has received a three-year, $1.545 million federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The project aims to increase workforce awareness and provide educational opportunities through recruitment, training and job placement for respiratory therapists in rural South Dakota communities. Dr. Sharrel Pinto, department head of Allied and Population Health at SDSU, is director of BREATHE-SD — Bringing Resources, Education, Awareness, Training, Holistic care, and Empowerment to South Dakota.

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Dr. Sharrel Pinto, Project Director and Department Head for Allied and Population Health

Pinto said the BREATHE-SD team plans to set up clinical rotations for SDSU respiratory care students in Huron, Madison and Brookings, increase the student capacity of SDSU’s respiratory care program, hire additional SDSU respiratory care program staff, implement scholarships for students seeking respiratory care and public health degrees and launch an awareness campaign.

When Huron Regional Medical Center Program Manager Dr. Brooke Sydow approached SDSU about the potential partnership to bring a respiratory training apprentice program to three independent rural hospitals, Pinto and her team at the Community Practice Innovation Center were immediately intrigued.

Pinto saw the potential for Allied and Population Health department’s resources to use the grant to meet several additional needs. The department houses three divisions: respiratory care, medical laboratory sciences and population health, in addition to the Community Practice Innovation Center.

“The fact that we have multiple programs and faculty from various health care disciplines makes it easier for us to work together,” Pinto said. “We have a very collaborative department so when a funding opportunity like this came about, we got our experts around the table to put together a project that we are all extremely proud of.” 

Lacy Patnoe, director of the respiratory care program at SDSU, said, “South Dakota hospitals are experiencing workforce shortages among caregivers. Respiratory therapists are in high demand.” This demand was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need to increase the public health and respiratory therapy workforce.

Rural areas are particularly impacted by workforce shortages in these important health care fields, forcing many patients to travel far to receive the care they need. Patnoe said, “Currently, there are barriers to providing our rural partners with the opportunities needed to narrow the respiratory therapy workforce shortage.”

In rural communities like Huron, Brookings and Madison, health care professionals have already been working collaboratively to address these needs.

Lacy Patnoe
Lacy Patnoe, Respiratory Care Program Director

The Huron Regional Medical Center, the Brookings Health System and the Madison Regional Health System are all members of the Northern Plains Health Network, which formed to offer greater opportunities for rural communities. The work done through BREATHE-SD will continue the work started by the network. Erick Larson, president and CEO of Huron Regional Medical Center, said, "We know the tremendous value quality health care brings to our rural communities and we have partnered to help ensure that for years to come."

Through BREATHE-SD, the SDSU Respiratory Care program will allow students to complete clinical rotations in Huron, Brookings and Madison. Currently, the SDSU respiratory care program only provides opportunities for its students to complete clinical rotations at partnering sites in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but through this project students will gain valuable experience in these rural communities, Pinto said.

Sydow said, "Through this project we will be able to provide students with not only the necessary education and training needed for their program, but also an incredibly diverse experience across the full spectrum of respiratory care, including in the emergency room, ICU and in a traditional respiratory care setting.” In turn, residents in these areas will also gain access to the program.

Pinto added that another objective of the project is to recruit individuals from rural and underserved areas"By expanding our clinical sites for respiratory care into the rural parts of our state, we are hoping to recruit students from these communities and train them, so that upon graduation they can return to serve these or other rural communities across our state or country."

Also through BREATHE-SD, SDSU’s Respiratory Care program will increase its student capacity by two-thirds, from 24 students to 40.

Brooke Sydow
Dr. Brooke Sydow, Network Coordinator and Program Manager at Huron Regional Medical Center

To facilitate this, the program will also hire additional faculty to ensure all students receive quality education. Experienced faculty and hands-on training opportunities are just two of the factors contributing to the program’s 100% job placement rate for graduates, Patnoe said.

At the same time, the BREATHE-SD project will positively impact public health across the state. "Similar to respiratory care, public health continues to face workforce shortages," Pinto said. "We've seen a need to train and educate advanced practice providers and other allied health professionals in public health, especially to meet the needs of those in rural and frontier states."

SDSU’s public health program is working to meet this need and Pinto is excited about how this grant can make students in both the public health and respiratory care programs feel less of a financial burden.

“As department head, two things keep me up at night,” Pinto explained. “One, the ability to minimize the financial burden for our students, and two, increasing access to education for students coming from rural communities. BREATHE-SD addresses both these items.”

Pinto explained that this project will provide opportunities for students who are interested in both public health and respiratory care to receive significant tuition assistance scholarships through this grant.

Another major goal of the project is to increase awareness of respiratory therapy and other health care professions so that future generations can consider them as viable and important professions as they head off to college. This awareness campaign will also focus on the prevention and management of COVID-19 and its long-term impacts.

"The BREATHE-SD project gives us a remarkable opportunity to demonstrate the value and impact of working in a rural facility,” Sydow said.

Pinto, Sydow, Patnoe and the rest of the BREATHE-SD team are excited about what this means for the state of respiratory care, public health and other allied health professions in South Dakota, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about SDSU’s Respiratory Care program.

To learn more about SDSU’s Public Health program.

To learn more and stay updated on the BREATHE-SD project.