Baltimore, MD – Feb. 11, 2021 – The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) Downtown Campus has earned the prestigious 2021-2022 Apex Recognition Award from the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) for excellence in providing respiratory care to patients. The academic medical center joins an elite group of respiratory care programs across the United States to receive this national award, which recognizes significant contributions in the field of respiratory care and use of best practices aligned with evidence-based medicine. 

The UMMC Downtown Campus received the award in the Acute Care Hospital category, one of only 13 centers nationwide in this category for 2021-2022. The award was developed in 2017 as a way for the AARC Board of Directors to recognize respiratory care departments that demonstrate high quality care.

“We are very pleased to receive AARC’s prestigious Apex designation,” said Chris Kircher, MS, RRT-ACCS, Director of Respiratory Care Services at UMMC. “Our team has worked extremely hard to meet all the stringent requirements for this award, and we are very proud to have achieved this national recognition.”

“For our patients, this award highlights the level of training and skill our dedicated team of over 200 respiratory therapists brings to the bedside each and every day – whether it be in Labor and Delivery and the NICU, our surgical and medical units or in helping to provide comfort and pulmonary support during end-of-life care,” Kircher said. “This team works tirelessly to not only provide the best care in some of the most urgent situations, but also imparts this knowledge and experience to each year’s classes of newly graduated respiratory therapists.”

“Our highly skilled respiratory therapists play a critically important role in helping patients recover from COVID-19 and many other life-threatening illnesses to regain their quality of life,” said Bert W. O’Malley, Jr., MD, UMMC’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Earning AARC’s Apex Recognition Award clearly demonstrates that UMMC’s respiratory care program is among the finest in the country. I congratulate the team on this well-deserved honor.”

“I could not be prouder to work with these unbelievably talented respiratory therapists, who every day provide outstanding compassionate care to our patients,” said Carl B. Shanholtz, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UMMC. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, this team has gone above and beyond the call of duty to care for critically ill patients with respiratory distress, if not severe respiratory failure, under the most extraordinary circumstances. No one has been closer on the front lines of the medical battlefield than the respiratory therapists.”

“I applaud all of their hard work and commitment to their patients and each other during these extremely stressful and challenging times,” Dr. Shanholtz said.

Diana Johnson, PT, MS, Senior Director for Patient Care Services at UMMC, called the Apex award “a huge accomplishment” for the Downtown Campus Respiratory Care Services Department and “the pinnacle of achievement” in the field of respiratory care.

“This recognition could not be more timely or well-deserved given the role that our respiratory therapists have played in the last 10 months during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Johnson said. “Their high level of commitment, consistency and professionalism are important in ensuring the safety of our patients. For our critical care and pulmonary populations, respiratory therapists are a vital part of the clinical care team.”

Kircher says that centers must meet a number of AARC requirements in regard to staffing, training and credentialing to attain the designation. The criteria include:

  • Respiratory therapists are available 24 hours a day within the facility.
  • All respiratory therapists must be licensed by their state and be credentialed by the National Board for Respiratory Care.  
  • They must also undergo annual competency training with a well-defined competency program.
  • The program must have an established professional advancement model and a tool to measure and track quality, patient satisfaction, overall safety and general operational performance.
  • At least 80 percent of the clinical staff needs to hold registered respiratory therapist (RRT) credentials.

“Respiratory care departments everywhere are coming off a hard year. Their skills and stamina have been tested like never before. As a vital component to a patient’s care team, respiratory therapists work hard each day to deliver quality patient care,” said Sheri Tooley, BSRT, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, CPFT, FAARC, AARC President in announcing this year’s awards. “These teams reach high standards and bring specialized skills, unique to respiratory care departments. We are thrilled to honor these organizations as Apex Recognition Award recipients.”

The AARC is dedicated to supporting the respiratory care profession. The award program distinguishes organizations for their commitment to excellence in professional development, evidence-based care, patient safety, patient satisfaction and quality improvement. The Apex Recognition Award includes five categories for recognition: acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities, home medical equipment (HME) companies, entry-level educational programs, and dedicated transport teams.


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