More than 2,900 US healthcare workers have died in the Covid-19 pandemic since March, a number much higher than the number reported by the government, according to a new analysis by The Guardian and KHN.
Health worker deaths from the coronavirus are young, with the majority under the age of 60 in cases for which age data is available. People of color were disproportionately affected and account for more than 65% of deaths in cases where race and ethnicity data are available. After conducting interviews with family and friends of some 300 victims, Guardian and KHN learned that a third of the deaths were related to concerns about inadequate personal protective equipment.
Many of the deaths, about 680, occurred in New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic. Significant numbers also died in the southern and western states in the following months.
The findings are part of Lost on the Frontline, a nine-month research and data project by KHN and The Guardian to track every healthcare worker who dies as a result of the pandemic.
One victim, Vincent DeJesus, 39, told his brother Neil that he would be in serious trouble if he spent a lot of time with a Covid-positive patient wearing the surgical mask provided to him by the Las Vegas hospital where he worked. DeJesus died on August 15.
Another death was Sue Williams-Ward, a 68-year-old home health aide who made $ 13 an hour in Indianapolis and bathed, dressed and fed clients without wearing any PPE, her husband said. She was intubated for six weeks before dying on May 2.
Lost on the Frontline is pushing for new government action to explore the root cause of healthcare worker deaths and take steps to better track them. Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services recently asked the National Academies of Sciences for a “quick expert consultation” on why so many healthcare workers are dying in the US, citing the Guardian’s downed worker count and KHN.
“The question is where do they get infected?” asked Michael Osterholm, a member of Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory team and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “That is clearly a critical problem that we must address and we do not have it.”
the December 10 Report by the national academies suggests a new federal tracking system and specially trained contact trackers that would take into consideration PPE policies and availability.
Doing so would add critical knowledge that could inform future generations and give meaning to lives that have just been lost.
“Those [healthcare workers] They are people who come into their workplaces every day because they care about patients, putting food on the table for families, and each of those lives is important, ”said Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor of nursing at the University of Michigan and co-author of the National Academies report.
The recommendations come at a difficult time for healthcare workers, as some are receiving the Covid-19 vaccine while others are fighting for their lives amid the highest levels of infection it has seen in the United States.
The toll continues to rise. In Indianapolis, for example, 41-year-old nurse practitioner Kindra Irons died on December 1. She saw seven to eight home health patients a week while wearing full personal protective equipment, including an N95 mask and face shield, according to her husband, Marcus Irons.
The virus destroyed her lungs in such a way that six weeks with the most aggressive life support team, ECMO, could not save her, she said.
Marcus Irons said he is now struggling to financially support his two youngest children, ages 12 and 15. “No one should have to go through what we are going through,” he said.
In Massachusetts, Mike “Flynnie” Flynn, 43, supervised transportation and laundry services at North Shore Medical Center, a hospital in Salem. He and his wife were also raising young children, ages eight, 10, and 11.
Flynn, who shone at father-daughter dances, fell ill in late November and died on December 8. He suffered a heart attack at home on the couch, according to his father, Paul Flynn. A spokesman for the hospital said he had full access to PPE and free tests on site.
Since the early months of the pandemic, more than 70 reporters from The Guardian and KHN have examined numerous sources of government and public data, interviewed the afflicted, and spoken with healthcare experts to build a tally.
The total number includes deaths identified by unions, obituaries and the media and in online publications of the bereaved, as well as by relatives of the deceased. The previous total announced by The Guardian and KHN was approximately 1,450 health worker deaths. The new number reflects the inclusion of data reported by nursing homes and health facilities to the federal and state governments. These deaths include the names of the facilities but not the names of the workers. Reporters checked each record to make sure the deaths didn’t show up in the database twice.
The count has been widely cited by other outlets, as well as by members of Congress.
The representative Norma Torres from California referred to the data citing need for a pending bill that would provide compensation to the families of healthcare workers who died or suffered long-term disabilities from Covid-19.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon referenced the recount at a Senate finance committee hearing on the medical supply chain. “The fact is,” he said, “the PPE shortage has put our doctors, nurses and caregivers in grave danger.”
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.