As nursing homes across the US are being rampaged by COVID-19, nursing home workers are facing frightening challenges to provide appropriate care for elderly residents while trying to protect their own health. Many are putting their own lives at risk as they must continue to provide care to one of the most vulnerable populations right now yet lack the proper medical and safety equipment. As many facilities have been forced to stop allowing visitors, these workers are becoming more than just physical aids but are bringing needed companionship to anxious residents. These pandemic heroes are on the frontlines to help stop the spread of the infection and protect our communities.

(ELI CHEN | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) Nursing home workers at Royal Oak Nursing & Rehabilitation demand more protective equipment and hazard pay for working during the pandemic.

As of April 22nd, the New York State Department of Health reported that 3,540 nursing home residents had passed away due to COVID-19.[1] But this number does not include the lives of the facilities’ workers. Rob Baril, president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 SEIU, said “about 500 of his union’s 6,000 nursing home workers have contracted COVID-19 or are self-isolating with symptoms.”[2]

As nursing homes experience staffing shortages, leading to longer hours for others, workers are seeking proper safety equipment and compensation as conditions become increasingly hazardous. At facilities with a lack of resources, many workers have been fashioning their own protective gear with trash bags and trying to reuse masks and other equipment.

There has been increasing public criticism of nursing homes not informing residents, their families, and representatives about confirmed cases, yet little attention has been given to the treatment of nursing home workers. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that notification must be sent to residents and families within 12 hours of a confirmed case and reported to the CDC.[3]  But there has been no federal mandate or assistance to protect the rights of these workers.

Facilities are handling the situation in many ways. In Missouri, one nursing home worker was exposed to a resident with COVID-19 yet was told to continue working the next day. On the other side, some workers are being told to quarantine at home and stop working once they’ve been exposed and forcing them to use up all their paid sick time, if they have it, or go without pay.[4] It is critical that we provide better supports to these workers and recognize their sacrifices so that they can continue to adapt to dangerous working conditions, stop the spread of COVID-19, and foster resilience in their facilities and communities.

[1] New York State Department of Health: Nursing Home Fatalities

[2] New state plan for nursing home tests, isolation facilities could have big impact on COVID-19 spread

[3] Nursing Home COVID-19 Reporting Rules To Be Strengthened

[4] ‘It’s A Frightening Experience’: Nursing Home Workers Demand Protection From Coronavirus