Around the world, people now realize the sacrifice health workers do every day to control the spread of the coronavirus. Most people celebrate the valuable sacrifice doctors, nurses, caregivers, and sanitation workers have to make. However, these valuable workers are underpaid and undervalued. Add to that the number of health workers who are infected and do not recover, and it seems that many countries are losing the most valuable workers they have in this pandemic.
But the most overlooked people in the healthcare industry are those who provide care to the elderly and those who maintain sanitation and hygiene in hospitals, clinics, hospices that provide palliative care, public spaces and buildings. These workers could be caregivers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, health aides, cooks, and cleaners. Though their services are vital in the day to day operations of their organization, they are not considered essential.
Who Are the Essential Workers?
But who are considered essential workers? The list includes doctors and nurses, but others are essential but underpaid. In the United States alone, there are nearly 7 million low-paid health workers. They belong in three groups: health care support workers (assist doctors and nurses in patient care), direct care workers (nursing assistants and personal health aides), and health care service workers (provide hygiene and sanitation services.)
These workers outnumber doctors and nurses and often are in direct contact with patients. But many of them do not receive the support and protection they need in this pandemic. Those who work as personal aides and nursing assistants in the palliative and hospice care sector have to provide their protective equipment and do not receive any financial support or supplies from the government.
For those who work in hospitals and clinics, the concerns are similar. Doctors and nurses are emotionally drained and stressed, and the calls for safer PPEs have largely drowned out their demands for a mental health check or outreach. Many of these physicians know that they are a health hazard to their own families, and the daily stress of seeing the number of patients rise coupled with the anxiety of infecting loved ones requires mental health support.
What Could We Do to Support Health Workers?
Governments around the world are now scrambling to create policies that will provide support to health workers. But what is also apparent is that private companies, employers, and the general public should do their part to slow down the pandemic and help these workers in the fight against COVID-19.
In the United States, there are calls for the Defense Production Act to mobilize manufacturers to produce PPEs for every health care worker in the country. Private organizations and companies are also being asked to provide sufficient PPEs and hygiene equipment for those in the personal care and hospice industry.
But what everyone could do is to wear PPEs and observe social distancing measures. We should listen to the physicians and workers who face this disease daily, and give them an excellent chance to win this fight against this pandemic.