Licensed practical nurses -- known as licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, in Texas and California -- provide basic nursing care and are important members of the health care team. LPNs are not normally considered independent practitioners, however, which can limit their ability to perform highly technical tasks or tasks that require independent nursing judgment. These could include working with ventilators.
Basics About LPNs
An LPN is a graduate of a one-year program from a technical-vocational school, community college, or even a high school or hospital, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All these programs must meet the accreditation requirements and prepare an LPN for the national licensing exam. In all states, LPNs and LVNs must work under the supervision of a physician or registered nurse. Each state regulates what LPNs can do. In some states, for example, an LPN with additional training can perform intravenous therapy or manage a ventilator. All states require LPNs to be licensed. Most LPNs are women, according to the Bureau of Health Professions, which reports 92.4 percent of LPNs were female in 2013.
The Breath of Life
A ventilator is a machine that assists a patient’s breathing or actually breathes for her. It can be used in a temporary situation -- such as during surgery or immediately after a life-threatening injury -- or in situations where the patient may never be able to breathe independently again, such as a coma. A patient with a ventilator also needs a temporary tube called an endotracheal tube in her throat, or a permanent tube called a tracheostomy tube. The ventilator is attached to these tubes.
Limitations and Requirements
An LPN might be able to work with a ventilator-dependent patient but not actually manage or adjust the ventilator, depending on the scope of practice regulations in her state and organizational policies where she works. In Nebraska, for example, an LPN can work with a ventilator patient but cannot adjust the ventilator. In acute care hospitals, ventilator patients are often in intensive care units, which are more likely to be staffed with RNs than LPNs. In home or long-term care settings, however, LPNs could care for stable patients on ventilators. In some states, such as California, special training is required. American Heart Classes in California, for example, offers ventilator training.
Each State Makes the Call
Some states do allow LPNs a degree of independent practice in the home setting, specifically for ventilator management. In Maine, for example, an LPN can provide ventilator care if she is properly trained and her supervising RN is on call. In New York, however, an LPN cannot care for a ventilator patient in a community setting, such as the home, unless she is providing care to a medically fragile infant and has been properly trained, certified and enrolled in the Medicaid program as an independent enrolled provider. Wisconsin has a program similar to New York's.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is a Ventilator?
- Maine State Board of Nursing: Questions Related to Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN)
- New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities: Scope of Practice for Licensed Practical Nurses
- New York State Department of Health: Medically Fragile Children Program
- Wisconsin Professional Home Care Providers: Professional Home Care Providers
- Bureau of Health Professions: The U.S. Nursing Workforce - Trends in Supply and Education
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.