‘It decimated our staff’: Covid ravages Black and brown health workers in US - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

‘It decimated our staff’: Covid ravages Black and brown health workers in US

Taken from The Guardian


December 30, 2020

This spring, New Jersey emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez saw “wave after wave” of sick patients, each wearing a look of fear that grew increasingly familiar as the weeks wore on.

Soon, it was her colleagues at Newark’s University hospital – the nurses, techs and doctors with whom she had been working side-by-side–who turned up in the ER, themselves struggling to breathe. “So many of our own co-workers got sick, especially toward the beginning, it literally decimated our staff,” she said.

By the end of June, 11 of Beniquez’s colleagues were dead. Like the patients they had been treating, most were Black and Latino.

“We were disproportionately affected because of the way that Blacks and Latinos in this country have been disproportionately affected across every [part of] our lives–from schools to jobs to homes,” she said.

Now Beniquez feels like a vanguard of another kind. On 14 December, she became the first person in New Jersey to receive the coronavirus vaccine – and was one of many medical workers of color featured prominently next to headlines heralding the vaccine’s arrival at US hospitals.

It was a joyous occasion, one that kindled the possibility of seeing her parents and her 96-year-old grandmother, who live in Puerto Rico, again. But those nationally broadcast images were also a reminder of those for whom the vaccine came too late.

Covid-19 has taken an outsized toll on Black and Hispanic Americans. And those disparities extend to the medical workers who have intubated them, cleaned their bedsheets, and held their hands in their final days, a Guardian/Kaiser Health News investigation has found. People of color account for about 65% of fatalities in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data.

One recent study found healthcare workers of color were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to test positive for the virus. They were more likely to treat patients with Covid-19, more likely to work in nursing homes – major coronavirus hotbeds – and more likely to cite an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the report.

In a national sample of 100 cases gathered by the Guardian/Kaiser Health News in which a healthcare worker expressed concerns over insufficient PPE before they died of Covid-19, three-quarters of the victims were identified as Black, Hispanic, Native or Asian.

“Black healthcare workers are more likely to want to go into public-sector care where they know that they will disproportionately treat communities of color,” said Adia Wingfield, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied racial inequality in the healthcare industry. “But they also are more likely to be attuned to the particular needs and challenges that communities of color may have,” she said.

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