John O’Connor

It’s well known that a career in the long-term care field may not be the healthiest way to scratch out a living. Especially when it involves interacting with, you know, the customers.

Let’s face it: Many residents are not exactly recent graduates of the Disney Institute. Some may curse you. Or question your race, ethnicity or national origin. Still others are not above biting, gouging, hair pulling, punching or other tactics to be found in a Rough and Tumble instruction guide. 

Then there’s the inherent danger that comes with lifting residents from beds, chairs, tubs, toilets and floors. Especially when the machinery for the task is unavailable or won’t work. Not that such a thing could happen in your facility of course. But trust me, it does occur.

So yeah, things can get a bit physically challenging out there.

But those hazards are kid’s stuff compared to what we’re seeing lately in long-term care: worker deaths caused by COVID-19.

Thanks to an ongoing pandemic, employees are dying by the thousands. That’s an exaggeration, you say? Well, if statistics from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are to be believed, there have been more than 2,250 staff-related deaths since the pandemic hit our shores roughly two years ago.

And by all indications, the carnage is only getting worse. According to a new report from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, 67 COVID-related deaths occurred among nursing home staff in the week ending Jan. 9 alone. That’s only two fatalities shy of the all-time weekly record.

If this frightening trend continues, it shouldn’t be long before the death total for workers in this field surpasses the number of people killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 (2,763).

What I find especially troubling is that vaccinations and mask wearing might have prevented many of these deaths from taking place.

As a kind mentor once told me, life is hard enough without making it more difficult. It’s a lesson many workers may soon learn at a very high price.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.