In the era of coronavirus, hospital workers have received much praise. For weeks, the people of New York City cheered hospital workers every night at 7 p.m. The practice of collective cheering started in Wuhan, China, according to The New York Times. Like the virus, this ritual traveled to the United States.
People expressing their gratitude has been a positive aspect of the pandemic; it’s a recognition of the work others do, often at great risk to themselves, and how that work benefits society. Hospital workers in the era of COVID-19? You bet they deserve appreciation.
Nevertheless, one group of workers hasn’t received as much recognition, despite being in a similar at-risk category. These unsung heroes are the people who work in nursing homes and other long-term senior care facilities.
A lot has been written about nursing home residents, and the risks they face. But the workers in these facilities haven’t gotten much coverage.
Facts and figures
Yet, nursing homes and long-term senior care facilities are where the pandemic has been most concentrated.
As of mid-June, deaths among staff and residents in these facilities reached 50,000, accounting for 40% of the 116,000 total U.S. fatalities related to COVID-19, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In early May, The New York Times reported that one-third of all coronavirus deaths were nursing home residents or workers. A comparison of the May data from the Times and the June data from the WSJ shows that the number of deaths, as well as the overall percentage, has increased significantly in only six weeks.
Now that states are loosening restrictions, with some allowing visits to nursing homes, will there be a further spike?
The numbers suggest it is likely.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 15,600 nursing homes with approximately 1.7 million beds in the United States. By comparison, there are 6,146 U.S. hospitals with 924,107 beds, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA).
The major difference is who occupies beds at the different facilities. In nursing homes, almost half of all residents are 85 years or older; relatively few are younger than 65 years of age, according to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Health in Aging Foundation.
Hospitals, on the other hand, serve people of all ages. Approximately 8% of hospital stays are for patients 85 years and older; in fact, nearly 40% of hospital stays are for patients under 45 years of age, according to 2018 research conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Why do these statistics matter?
According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been in adults 65 years of age and older. This strongly suggests that almost every nursing home resident is at high risk of contracting coronavirus, while many hospital patients are less vulnerable.
About the workers
What does all this mean to nursing home workers?
Because nearly the entire population they serve is comprised of the most vulnerable individuals, these workers are literally putting their lives on the line.
When you think of nursing home workers, you tend to think of nurses. And while nurses are among staff members, there are many other nursing home positions. Here are a few of the other jobs for which nursing homes are currently recruiting:
- Dietary aide
- Home health scheduler
Some nursing homes have increased employees’ salaries, offering what has been called hero or hazard pay. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees has also been a priority at many facilities.
When it comes to recruiting, however, it’s a different story. Hero or hazard pay, as well as any reference to PPE, are missing from the vast majority of nursing home job ads. A cursory study of nursing home job postings finds that approximately 2% mention PPE, and fewer than 2% mention hero, hazard or additional compensation related to COVID-19.
Is this because nursing home workers have not received the same media coverage as hospital workers? Is it because the recent focus has been on reopening America, to the point that the ongoing pandemic, which has now resulted in an uptick in coronavirus cases in 20 states, has become secondary?
Bottom line: The pandemic is not over. Nursing home workers are at high risk. Recognize their work, and consider what their jobs require, when recruiting for nursing home positions.
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