I’m astounded, and tired, of hearing about the public’s lack of trust in our front line healthcare workers during this pandemic.
On Aug. 31, President Trump retweeted a post claiming that only 6% of COVID-19 U.S. deaths reported were for persons who had “actually died from Covid.” The post attempted to falsely claim that only 9,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
This was in response to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Aug. 26 reported that in 6% of deaths from the coronavirus, the virus “was the only cause mentioned” for death. In other words, the other 94% of the reported COVID-19 deaths were for persons who had at least one additional factor contributing to the death. President Trump and others have tried to assert that this was a secret CDC reveal, that doctors, nursing homes and hospitals were “over reporting” COVID-19 deaths, perhaps to profit from greater reimbursement offered for COVID-19 reimbursement.
Twitter took down the post as being false information.* In reality, as of about the beginning of this month, at least 185,000 people had died of the coronavirus in the US, according to the Washington Post. Most medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, says deaths from COVID-19 are being undercounted rather than overcounted.
But this kind of banter only proliferates the seedy reality of some of our public’s reaction to our healthcare system and our front line workers. In fact, another Senator from Iowa picked up the same conspiracy theory on Sept. 2, claiming that healthcare providers are to blame for somehow inflating COVID-19 deaths. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa responded that she, too, was “so skeptical” of the mortality rate from the coronavirus, adding: “These healthcare providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if Covid is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” She was alleging, with no evidence, that,among other things, widespread insurance or healthcare fraud on the part of hospitals, nursing homes and doctors.**
COVID-19 has shed a light on a seeming deep mistrust of healthcare providers in the U.S. If you talk to the front line heroes, like our nursing home clients (the actual workers who risk their lives every day to fight coronavirus and help residents be safe every day), such rhetoric from government officials is unfair and reveals their distrust of front line care providers.
No nursing home worker, doctor or certified nursing aide wakes up in the morning trying to think of how they can make money off of COVID-19 diagnoses. In reality, those workers wake up every day, put on their personal protective equipment and worry about their residents, families or themselves catching COVID-19 during their long day of care and treatment to combat COVID-19 the best they can.
This type of public denouncement only serves as a harsh slap in the face of the workers and nursing facilities whom we should be supporting and honoring every day, and who are trying their best to combat and survive the pandemic.
But the public has this poor perception that in this pandemic, the hospitals, nursing homes, and individual healthcare providers are more interested in committing insurance or health care fraud to gain more money rather than in practicing their medical and nursing profession. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you go to nursing homes grappling with COVID-19 (and we have talked with a lot of them throughout this pandemic), nursing home owners and workers are truly saddened because they have actually lost loved ones in the residents they so deeply care about. In some instances, they also have lost fellow workers. They have lost family members.
To say that these workers are interested in inflating COVID-19 cases for higher reimbursement is offensive, not to mention false.
It is clear that the some of the public still has this poor view of nursing homes, hospitals and doctors out there. But we must not allow this public perception to proliferate. Although Twitter took down the false post, the perception of distrust of medical providers revealed itself through the comments of President Trump and Senator Ernst.
It’s time we stand up for our front line health care workers, stand behind the medicine and science of COVID-19, and support those heroes that risk their lives every day to overcome this pandemic.
* See: Brittany Shammas and Meryl Kornfield, “Twitter deletes claim minimizing coronavirus death toll, which Trump retweeted,” Washington Post, August 31, 2020.
** See: Chris Cillizza, “This Republican senator just embraced a wild coronavirus conspiracy theory,” CNN.com, September 2, 2020.
Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the Chicago office of the Health Law Practice Group and member of the Post-Acute Care And Senior Services Subgroup at Duane Morris LLP; [email protected]