Nfld. & Labrador

CNA ducked calls on suspended respiratory therapy program, says student

A respiratory therapy program at Newfoundland and Labrador's College of the North Atlantic has been suspended because it didn't pass muster with a professional group that accredits educational standards.

Accreditation withdrawn after one-year probation, College of the North Atlantic announces

Respiratory therapy students learn how to work in neonatal nurseries and intensive-care units, and with patients who have breathing problems. (CBC)

The College of the North Atlantic ducked calls from students in a now-suspended program, says one student who recently finished her first year.

Nearly 40 students are in limbo with the suspension of a respiratory therapy program at the College of the North Atlantic.

The Newfoundland and Labrador college announced the suspension Wednesday, saying the program has had its accreditation withdrawn by the national group that oversees educational standards for the program.

A news release from the college said 13 students accepted into the program for September will have their application fee refunded, or they can switch to another program if seats are available.

Another 26 students in the second and third years of the respiratory therapy program, along with faculty, face uncertainty.

College downplayed risk, says student

"We will have more information to share with them in short order," said Bill Radford, CNA's senior academic vice-president.

But Heather White of Paradise, who just finished her first year of studies, said the college hasn't been sharing information with students about the program's shaky status.

We spent a full week calling and getting our calls dodged.- Heather White

Students found out about the suspension yesterday, but the college didn't officially notify them until after it put a press release on its website, said White.

"We're very obviously upset about it," she said. "Right now, mostly, I feel frustration. It's been a lot of pulling teeth trying to get information."

"Nobody there is forthcoming. Nobody really communicates, so you get transferred to 10 different people to try and get some semblance of a coherent, honest answer, and even then, it's very difficult."

Students knew the decision would be made June 21, said White, who added that instructors learned about the suspension last week, while students were kept in the dark.

"We spent a full week calling and getting our calls dodged," she said.

The Council on Accreditation for Respiratory Therapy Education placed the respiratory therapy program on a one-year probation in 2016.

While the college tried to address deficiencies, Radford said there was not enough progress to keep the accreditation.

'Not done lightly'

The Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists says it is the first time it has pulled accreditation from a training program.

"It is not done lightly," said executive director Christianne Menard. "There were significant issues."

White said students weren't told of the program's probationary status until after they'd paid tuition and begun the fall semester last year, and she accuses the college of downplaying the significance of that status.

Nobody really bothered to apply to different programs because we were told that everything was going in a very positive direction.- Heather White

"We received very little clarity, but we were constantly reassured by the school. So while they did tell us it was a possibility the accreditation could be withdrawn, it was 'all indicators are positive' and 'the very last thing they resort to is withdrawing accreditation,'" she said.

"So nobody really bothered to apply to different programs because we were told that everything was going in a very positive direction. It was possible, but unlikely that accreditation would be withdrawn."

Menard said the program would have to meet 43 requirements showing graduates can practise safely, and in many cases there was no way of tracking their clinical competence.

The CNA respiratory therapy program has had 28 graduates write the national licensing exam over the past five years and all have passed, according to Radford.

Respiratory therapists work with patients who have chronic diseases involving breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema or cystic fibrosis.

They also work in operating rooms and with trauma teams, with responsibility for ventilation, diagnostic work and patient transport, among other duties.

White said students have been told the college is seeking permission to allow students already enrolled in the program to write the national licensing exam, which would then make it possible for them to at least finish their studies at CNA.

"If it doesn't go that way, they don't have a Plan B for us," she said. "So they've had a year of knowing that accreditation could be withdrawn and made no provisions for their students."