Maurice Harlan, a respiratory therapist, is the longest serving teammate at Carolinas Medical Center

News | 3 months ago

Respiratory Therapist Creates 46-Year Legacy at Carolinas Medical Center

Maurice Harlan's roots run deep at Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center. Not only did his grandfather help to lay the plumbing in the original facility in 1938, but his brother also worked there too. Following his footsteps, Maurice joined as a respiration therapist where he has remained for 46 years.

Maurice Harlan, respiratory therapist, has roots that run deep at Atrium Health's flagship hospital, Carolinas Medical Center. His grandfather laid the plumbing in the original Charlotte Memorial Hospital in 1938, the same building Harlan works in today. In the early 1970s, his brother, who had been a medic in the Army during the Vietnam War, worked in the inhalation therapy department at Charlotte Memorial. It didn’t surprise many when Harlan followed his brother into the same role in September 1972.

“I always wanted to be in the medical field,” says Harlan. “Once I got into the hospital and saw what they did, I realized it’s specialized. You’re taking care of a whole floor, you go all the emergencies, it’s an active field and you work closely with the physicians.”

The hospital was in desperate need of more inhalation therapists and trained Harlan on the job. A year later, he passed a national certified test that allowed him to work on his own with patients.

During this time, the Vietnam War was still going on. Like his brother, Harlan joined the military in late 1973. As a corpsman in the Navy, he continued to receive inhalation training.

A year later, he received credit for his military service and never lost his time working for Atrium Health. He was able to return to his job at Charlotte Memorial Hospital in the cardiovascular recovery unit.

“It’s amazing to think we only had two beds at the time,” says Harlan.

Harlan still remembers the tragedy of Eastern Airlines flight 212 from Charleston to Charlotte in 1974 that killed 72 on board. The plane crashed just short of the runway in dense fog. Among those killed were the head pathologist for Charlotte Memorial Hospital and the father and two brothers of comedian Stephen Colbert.

“I was actually hiking the Appalachian Trail when 40 patients were brought in to our hospital,” says Harlan. “When I came back to work, I just remember working with a lot of burn patients. Due to lack of skin, they are some of the most difficult to administer anything to them.”

In 1978, he saved enough money to go to Central Piedmont Community College to earn his associate degree. “I worked second and third shifts, so I could go to school,” he says.

He graduated in 1980 as a respiratory therapist and became a supervisor for over a dozen teammates. Harlan will tell you he’s done every position a respiratory therapist can. He may have changed jobs a lot, but he chose to stay at CMC.

“I have seen people come and go,” says Harlan. “If you want to take care of patients, this is the place to do it. Physicians let you make the decision because you are the expert. A lot of places wouldn’t let you touch the patients. Most respiratory therapists [who leave Atrium Health] come back because they weren’t given the freedom to take care of the patient and would have to call someone to get permission. Our physicians and our organization have a greater respect and trust for our respiratory therapist. I still feel that way today.”

For the last 20 years, Harlan has worked in the pulmonary function lab doing breathing and diagnostic tests. He’s enjoying the change-in-pace from the ICU.

“Unlike the intensive care unit, my patients can talk to me,” he chuckles. “You get to interact, talk to them about their disease process and educate them. I pride myself in talking plain to them to understand it better and give them breathing tips during the day if they have exacerbation.”

Harlan has no plans to retire yet after 46 years but hopes to spend more time with his five grandkids. “It’s been a very fulfilling career,” says Harlan. “I feel like I’ve helped people. It’s been a great ride – it just continues.”