In recent years, though, the therapists have been given more opportunity to express their views about treatment. A San Diego hospital has allowed therapists to take a leading role in developing care plans with very good results, Lind said. But even here, "the physician has the first and last word," he said.
Until 1983, respiratory therapy existed for decades as an unlicensed and unregulated field within medicine, Read said. That year, the state approved a process for licensing and monitoring such therapists over the objections of many people in medical fields who held that they were only seeking higher wages, he said.
But today, he said, it is generally accepted that these technicians should be tracked and regulated. The state regulatory board even has recently decided to upgrade educational requirements for respiratory therapists, Read said.
Saldivar attended Valley College, said his brother, Eddie Saldivar.
Reaction From Health Professionals
Medical professionals were outraged and bewildered by Saldivar's alleged mercy killings.
Basile, the Sacramento therapist, said he has been asking himself how so many could be killed without drawing notice. Although respiratory therapists can find themselves alone with patients, "you've got nurses and doctors walking in and out. You'd think they'd notice something was awry."
But Vinci, the Grass Valley therapist, said that despite the parade of nurses, physical therapists, radiologists and cleaning staff moving through intensive-care rooms, "everyone has got their own job to do . . . even if people are in the same room, each may just be doing their thing."
However, he said heart monitors, IVs and respirators have alarms, alarms that can't easily be circumvented. If people's deaths were being hastened, "it would attract attention," he said.
Most puzzling of all, said Lind of Olive View, is how Saldivar could have gotten the drugs he allegedly used. Respiratory therapists do not generally administer drugs except inhalants, and "there is no way this guy had access" to the paralyzing drugs he allegedly used, he said.
Either way, Lind said, he fears that the Saldivar allegations will harm a profession that has struggled for legitimacy. "We take pride in where we came from and what we are today," he said. "To have some nincompoop like this guy come out and do what he said he did, it's absolutely debilitating. I just shake my head. I'm horrified."