More health workers of color die from covid-19 | Society | USA Edition

Last spring, Maritza Beniquez, a New Jersey emergency room nurse, witnessed “wave after wave” of sick patients, each with a terrified look that became familiar as the weeks passed.

Soon, it was his colleagues at University Hospital in Newark, nurses, technicians and doctors with whom he had been working side by side, who showed up at the emergency room struggling to breathe.

“A lot of our own co-workers got sick, especially in the beginning; it literally decimated our staff,” he said.

By the end of June, eleven of Beniquez’s colleagues had died. Like the patients they had been treating, the majority were black and Latino (who can be of any race).

“We were disproportionately affected by the way our communities have been disproportionately affected in every (part of) our lives, from schools to jobs to homes,” he said.

On December 14, Beniquez became the first person in New Jersey to receive the coronavirus vaccine, and was one of many medical workers of color highlighted in the headlines.

It was a joyous occasion, which rekindled the possibility of seeing his parents and 96-year-old grandmother, who live in Puerto Rico. But those images broadcast nationally were also a reminder of those for whom the vaccine came too late.


Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on African Americans and Hispanics. And those disparities extend to the medical workers who intubated them, cleaned their sheets and held their hands in their final days, a KHN / The Guardian investigation found.

People of color account for approximately 65% ​​of deaths in cases where race and ethnicity data are available.

A recent study found that healthcare workers of color are more than twice as likely as their Caucasian counterparts to test positive for the virus.

They are also more likely to treat patients diagnosed with covid, and to work in homes for the elderly, the main sources of coronavirus, and also to report an inadequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), according to the report.

In a national sample of 100 cases compiled by KHN / The Guardian in which a health worker expressed concern about insufficient PPE before dying from covid, three-quarters of the victims were identified as African American, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian.

Adia Wingfield, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said that many African-American health care staff not only work in low-income health facilities, but are also more likely to suffer from many of the same comorbidities as They find in this general population a decades-long legacy of systemic inequalities.

And they can be victims of lower standards of care, added Dr. Susan Moore, a 52-year-old black pediatrician from Indiana who was hospitalized with covid in November and, according to a video posted on her Facebook account, had to ask repeatedly tests, remdesivir and pain relievers.

She said her (Caucasian) doctor dismissed her pain complaints and she was discharged, only to be admitted to another hospital 12 hours later.

Numerous studies have found that African-Americans often receive worse healthcare than their white counterparts: In March, a Boston biotech company released an analysis showing that doctors were less likely to refer symptomatic black patients for coronavirus testing. than symptomatic whites.

Doctors are also less likely to prescribe pain relievers for African American patients.

“If she was white, she wouldn’t have to go through that,” Moore said in the video posted from her hospital bed. “This is how they kill blacks, when you send them home, and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.” Moore died on December 20 of complications from the covid, his son Henry Muhammad told the media.


Along with people of color, immigrant health workers have suffered disproportionate losses from COVID-19.

More than a third of the health workers who die from covid in the country were born abroad, from the Philippines to Haiti, Nigeria and Mexico, according to a KHN / The Guardian analysis of recorded cases. They represent 20% of all health workers in the United States.

Dr. Ramón Tallaj, physician and president of Somos, a nonprofit network of health care providers in New York, said that immigrant doctors and nurses often see patients from their own communities, and many working-class immigrant communities. have been devastated by the covid.

“Our community are essential workers. They had to go to work at the beginning of the pandemic, and when they got sick, they went to see the community doctor,” he said.

Twelve doctors and nurses from the Somos network have died from covid, Tallaj revealed.

Inequalities in infections, and deaths, from covid could fuel distrust in the vaccine. In a recent Pew Research Center study, about 42% of black respondents said they would “definitely or probably” get the vaccine compared to 60% of the general population.

This makes sense to Patricia Gardner, a Jamaican-born nurse and manager at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, who contracted the coronavirus along with family and colleagues.

“A lot of what I hear is, ‘How come we weren’t the first to get care, but now we’re the first to get vaccinated?'” He said.

Like Beniquez, he was vaccinated on December 14. “For me, to step up and say, ‘I want to be in the first group,’ I hope that sends a message,” he said.

Beniquez said she felt the weight of that responsibility when she signed up to be the first person in her state to receive the vaccine. Many of his patients have expressed skepticism, driven, he opined, by a healthcare system that has failed them for years.

Beniquez said her joy and relief at receiving the vaccine are tempered by the reality of the increase in cases in the emergency room. The adrenaline rush she and her colleagues felt last spring is gone, replaced by the fatigue and caution of the months to come.

His hospital placed 11 trees in the lobby, one for every employee who died of covid; They have been adorned with souvenirs and gifts from colleagues.

“Every day, we remember our fallen colleagues and friends as the heroes who helped us move forward during this pandemic and beyond,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of the hospital, said in a statement.

“We will never forget their contributions and their collective passion for this community and for each other,” he added.

Just outside the building, there is tree number 12. “It will be for another or another that we lose in this battle,” Beniquez revealed.

By Danielle Renwick (photo)

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a non-profit news service that covers health topics. It is an editorially independent program from KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) that is not related to Kaiser Permanente.

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