Eureka Springs Hospital expands respiratory services

Thursday, October 14, 2021
Eureka Springs Hospital respiratory therapist Greg Barrios demonstrates how the hospital’s new ventilator machines work. Barrios began working at the hospital, which hadn’t had a respiratory therapist in a long time, filling a much-needed position at the hospital.
Samantha Jones / Lovely County Citizen

In March, respiratory therapist Greg Barrios found Eureka Springs Hospital on Google and gave the hospital a call. He spoke with CEO Angie Shaw, believing she was a fellow respiratory therapist.

“We were just talking and I asked if she’d be interested in me coming here and she said yes,” Barrios said. “They waited for two months for me to finish my assignment, and I came to Eureka Springs.”

At that point, Barrios had been working in a COVID-19 unit in Baltimore for 13 weeks. There were 25 beds and 25 ventilators, Barrios said, and he monitored all the patients who came through.

“All COVID, all dying,” Barrios said. “It was 13 weeks of patients coming in, being there for a little while, dying and leaving and somebody else coming in. It’s terrible, and even those very few that were able to leave that unit and end up at home had severe respiratory issues that they’ll probably have for the rest of their life.”

That’s when he decided he needed a change, Barrios said.

“That was going to be the end of that. I wasn’t going to do that anymore,” Barrios said. “I’m too old. I’m too high-risk and I decided I needed to slow down and just happened to call here. It was a fluke.”

He remembered visiting Eureka Springs when he lived in Little Rock, so he knew he’d love the area. Eureka Springs Hospital hadn’t had a respiratory therapist in a long time. When Barrios joined the staff in May, he said, he filled a much-needed position at the hospital. In turn, he said, the staff and community helped him recover from his time working in a COVID-19 unit.

“Everyone here is topnotch,” Barrios said.

Barrios described how his career began, starting with a stint in the Navy. He had always wanted to be a doctor but didn’t do well in school. When he joined the Navy, Barrios became a medic. He remembered being asked to work with the ventilator one day, the day that shaped his career.

“Nobody knew anything about them and I didn’t either, so I just grabbed the ventilator and started playing with it,” Barrios said. “I did some reading on it, contacted the company who made it and that became my area of interest.”

He continued in the field when he got out of the service in the 1960s, working in a neonatal ICU for 32 years. Overall, Barrios has worked in respiratory therapy for 54 years. It was quite an adjustment to go from working with babies to adults, Barrios said.

“Premature babies, you can pick them up and flip them over,” Barrios said. “Going from that to working with adults — there’s challenges. Little babies don’t have opinions about everything yet. They are easier to work with.”

A respiratory therapist helps all kinds of people who have trouble breathing, Barrios said.

“It could be asthma. It could be chronic pulmonary disease from smoking. It could be trauma from a car wreck or an autoimmune issue,” Barrios said. “It could be COVID and it’s gotten bad enough that it affects the lungs, which it does.”

Barrios said respiratory therapists provide oxygen to patients whose oxygen levels are low. There are a number of ways to measure that, Barrios said. Barrios said Eureka Springs Hospital has three new touch-screen ventilators on hand for patients who need a little extra help.

“They look simple but they’re very, very expensive,” Barrios said. “These are very high-tech. A lot of hospitals don’t even have this kind of equipment to use, and we’ve got three. One is in the emergency room.”

He’s enjoyed working in a smaller hospital, Barrios said.

“We concentrate on the quality of care that we give and what we can provide,” Barrios said. “The hospital’s so small, when we get a patient that has to be intubated and ventilated with the ventilator, we are immediately calling other hospitals to get them transferred.”

Everybody works as a team at the hospital, Barrios said.

“I’m probably the only one here who’s got neonatal experience, but we don’t need that level of expertise here,” Barrios said. “We need to be able to take in anybody who comes to the door, to take care of them, and if we’re not going to be able to take good care of them long-term, we send them to a different hospital and we’re OK with that.”

Barrios said he’s been wearing a mask since the pandemic began and got his vaccine the moment he could. That’s another way he protects his patients and coworkers, he said.

“I’m a big proponent of vaccinations. If you’re not vaccinated, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re rolling the dice,” Barrios said. “Respiratory therapists have always been proponents of masks. Decades before this, we knew to wear a mask to protect ourselves and we still do.”

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: