The New York Times

The New York Times 31 Mar 2020

Low Pay, High Risk: Nursing Home Workers Confront Coronavirus


"Who else is going to take care of them?" We spoke with nursing home workers about their fear of catching and spreading #coronavirus.

A nursing home worker in the U.S. was taking care of COVID-19 patients without personal protective gear, and her residents weren't healthy at all. How does she face this? How about the other nursing home workers in the U.S.?
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he's "outraged" after authorities say they found 17 bodies inside a small morgue at the state's largest nursing home. The coronavirus pandemic has increased families' fears for loved ones living in long-term care facilities across the country.
NBC News' Ron Allen speaks with a grieving family that is demanding answers after losing a relative in a New York City nursing home that terminated all non-essential visits to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
The despair wrought on nursing homes by the coronavirus was laid bare Friday in a state survey identifying numerous New York facilities where multiple patients died over the past few weeks. (April 17)

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“You may have just that one patient with the coronavirus
that come into your facility, and you don’t know.
I can go to work today, wind up feeding them.
And then find out two hours later,
‘Oh, they have that virus.’ And I’ve already been exposed.
Nursing Assistants, CNA’s, we’re the closest ones,
we’re the front line.”
The work of nursing assistants
has always been difficult and low paying.
But add coronavirus,
and it’s become dangerous.
TV announcers: “Across the country, nursing homes are
especially vulnerable —”
“One elder care facility, where 19 residents have died —”
“In Palo Alto —” “In the New Orleans area —”
“In DuPage County —” “In Sacramento County.”
“Covid-19 spreading through our most vulnerable population.”
We met up with caregivers from nursing homes
in Northern California.
They attend to the kind of patients
who are most likely to die if they get the virus.
“So can you do your job without touching people, or without —”
“It’s impossible.
Everything is touch.”
“Bathing. Feeding.”
“Assist them to the restroom.”
“Brushing their teeth.”
“It’s almost like a holding and cleaning at the same time.”
“Helping nurses with wound care.”
“Cleaning their ears,
tying their shoes.”
“We do everything.”
“Well, you could be feeding that patient or you could
be doing something and the patient starts coughing.
It’s too late to turn around, you already
done got crap all over you.
You know, you just run to the bathroom, wash your face
or whatever.
And then go about your day.
Social distance? Can’t do it.
It’s impossible.”
If this video were filmed at a different time, you’d
be seeing footage of these workers with their patients.
But nursing homes are closed to visitors right now
to protect the people inside.
Actually everything you’re seeing here
we filmed from afar, following recommendations
to slow the spread of Covid-19.
But these caregivers
can’t maintain that kind of distance in their work.
And now, shortages of protective gear like masks
are putting them at risk, not just for getting the virus
but for spreading it.
“If you want to speak, press star 6.”
“We’re running out of supplies of masks in our building.
And trying to take care of these patients
without us also getting sick is worrisome.”
“We’re rationing right now, masks, protective gear.
But it’s like, what happens if we run out?
It scares me.”
“They gave us the N95 mask, and told us to maintain it.
If the elastic comes off
by accident or something, staple and reuse it.”
“So you’re actually cleaning the N95 masks in between uses?”
“Yeah, with —
with alcohol.”
“You like wipe off the outside of it or
how do you do that?”
“The outside, the inside and just let it
air dry, and put it back in a Ziploc bag for the next day.”
“A lot of people in this field,
we have families.
So you don’t want to take nothing home.
My granddaughter, she’s special needs.
So she has a low immune system.
When she was born, she was really sick.
So we’ve been cautious ever since she’s been born.”
“I am very concerned of taking it home.
My mom, she’s diabetic, and my dad also just
beat cancer in the thyroid.
I have asthma.
So if I were to get Covid,
It would affect my lungs.
And how am I going to pay my bills?
Because it’s paycheck to paycheck,
what I’m doing.”
The pay for this work is low: In the U.S.,
the median salary is less than $30,000 a year.
As a result, many nursing assistants
work multiple jobs.
And as they move between facilities,
so can disease.
“Usually when I finish the first job,
I go right to the second job.
I work 16 hours, that’s not including driving time.
And I’m not the only one — majority of my co-workers,
they work two jobs.”
“I work home health care too,
on top of taking care of my mom and my grandmother.
I’m kind of worried because you don’t see the virus
because they’re droplets,
and you don’t know who’s coughing or sneezing on you.
Even though I do try to sanitize, like along the way,
going to my next client.
But sometimes it’s just not enough I think.
But who else is going to take care of them?”

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