Closeup of Hispanic nurse rubbing her forehead, looking tired/stressed

Healthcare workers have borne a heavy burden from COVID-19 infections, and nursing home care providers appear to have the sad distinction of accounting for a large proportion of those deaths.

That’s according to data unearthed for “12 Months of Trauma: More Than 3,600 U.S. Health Workers Died in COVID’s First Year,” a joint investigation from Kaiser Health News and The Guardian that has tracked who died and why.

Twice as many nursing home workers as hospital workers succumbed to complications from COVID-19 infections in 2020, according to the final report. In addition, lower-paid workers overall, including nursing home employees, nurses and support staff, were “far more likely” to die than physicians, the researchers said.

Among other findings:

  • More than half of the overall 3,607 healthcare workers who died in 2020 were younger than age 60. 
  • More than a third of those workers were born outside the United States, including a  disproportionate number of people from the Philippines. 
  • Two-thirds of deceased healthcare workers for whom the project has data identified themselves as people of color.
  • Most workers employed who died were employed at residential facilities, outpatient clinics, hospices and prisons, among other places. Well-funded academic medical centers, meanwhile, saw relatively few cases of death from COVID-19 among their healthcare provider ranks, the authors noted.

Many of these deaths could have been prevented, the reporters concluded. 

“Widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective gear, a lack of COVID testing, weak contact tracing, inconsistent mask guidance by politicians, missteps by employers and lax enforcement of workplace safety rules by government regulators all contributed to the increased risk faced by healthcare workers,” they wrote. 

Feds aren’t tracking these data

Meanwhile, the federal government did not accurately track healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19 in 2020, and the Biden administration is being pressed to begin doing so, according to KHN.

This absence of data likely exacerbated shortages of personal protective equipment that left workers exposed early on and contributed to the deaths, the authors contend. The White House is being encouraged by health policy experts and union leaders to rectify the data problem and help prevent more needless death, they wrote.

“We as nurses do not deserve this — we signed up to take care of patients, we did not sign up to die,” Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a president of National Nurses United, told KHN.