Report Reveals Covid-19 Deaths in US Healthcare Workers

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Editor’s note: KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a nonprofit organization that provides health information to the nation.

(CNN) – More than 3,600 U.S. healthcare workers died in the first year of the pandemic, according to Lost on the Frontline, a 12-month investigation by The Guardian and KHN to track these deaths. more complete count of health worker deaths in the United States. The federal government has not exhaustively tracked this data. But there are growing calls for the Biden administration to carry out a recount as the KHN / Guardian project comes to an end on Thursday.

The project, which has recorded deaths and their causes, provides insight into how the US healthcare system worked, and failures, during the pandemic. A key finding: Nearly 70% of the deceased healthcare workers we have data for identified as people of color, revealing the profound inequalities related to race, ethnicity, and financial status of healthcare workers in the United States. Lower-paid workers who cared for patients on a daily basis, such as nurses, support staff and nursing home employees, were far more likely to die in the pandemic than doctors.

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The year-long series of investigative reports found that many of these deaths could have been prevented. Widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment, lack of COVID-19 testing, poor contact tracing, lack of guidance on masks from politicians, mistakes made by employers and lax enforcement of workplace safety standards by government regulators contributed to the increased risk faced by healthcare workers. Studies show that healthcare workers were more than three times more likely to get COVID than the general public.

“We rightly refer to these people, without exaggeration, as true heroes and heroines,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in an exclusive interview with The Guardian and KHN. The deaths caused by covid are “a reflection of what health workers have done historically, putting themselves in danger, fulfilling the oath they take when they become doctors and nurses,” he said.

Risks and first deaths of health workers

Lost on the Frontline premiered last April with the story of Frank Gabrin, the first emergency room doctor in the United States to die of covid-19. In the early days of the pandemic, Gabrin, 60, was at the forefront of the wave, treating COVID-infected patients in New York and New Jersey. However, like many others, he was working without the proper personal protective equipment, known as PPE for short. “I don’t have any unused PPE,” he texted a friend. «There are no N95 masks; my own glasses; my own mask.

Gabrin’s untimely death became the first fatality entered into the Lost on the Frontline database. His story of working in the midst of a life-saving crisis shares similarities with the thousands that followed.

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Maritza Beniquez, an emergency room nurse at Newark University Hospital in New Jersey, saw 11 colleagues die in the first months of the pandemic. Like the patients they had seen, the majority were black and Latino. “It literally decimated our staff,” he said.

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

Results of the investigation

More than 100 journalists contributed to the project in an effort to record each death and commemorate the deceased. Journalists from the project submitted public records requests, crossed government and private data sources, searched obituaries and social media posts, and confirmed the deaths through family members, workplaces and colleagues.

Among its main conclusions about the fatalities from which detailed information was collected:

More than half of the deceased were under the age of 60. In the general population, the average age of death from covid is 78 years. However, among the health workers in the database, it is only 59 years old. More than a third of the deceased health workers were born outside the United States. A disproportionate number of deaths occurred in workers from the Philippines. Nurses and support staff had a much higher number of deaths than doctors. Twice as many workers in nursing homes died than in hospitals. Only 30% of the deaths occurred among hospital workers, and relatively few were employed by well-funded academic medical centers. The rest worked in less prestigious residential centers, outpatient clinics, hospices and prisons, among other places.

The death rate among healthcare workers has dropped dramatically since the vaccine was made available to them last December. A study published in late March revealed that only four of the 8,121 fully vaccinated employees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas were infected. But the deaths are one step behind the infections, and KHN and The Guardian have tracked more than 400 health worker deaths since the vaccine’s rollout began.

Factors identified in the death by covid-19 of health workers

Many factors have contributed to the high death toll, but the investigative report uncovered some ongoing problems that increased the risks health workers face.

The project found that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masks, which encouraged hospitals to reserve high-performance N95 masks for intubation procedures, and initially suggested that surgical masks were adequate for daily patient care, they may have endangered thousands of healthcare workers.

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The investigation exposed how the Department of Labor, led by Donald Trump-appointed Eugene Scalia, in the early part of the pandemic, took a hands-off approach to workplace safety. It identified 4,100 safety complaints submitted by healthcare workers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which is the workplace safety agency of the Department of Labor. Most of them concerned shortages of PPE, but even after some complaints were investigated and closed by regulators, workers continued to die at the facilities in question.

The report also found that healthcare employers did not report worker fatalities to OSHA. Analysis of the data revealed that more than a third of COVID deaths in the workplace were not reported to regulatory bodies.

One of the most painful takeaways from Lost on the Frontline was the devastating impact of the shortage of personal protective equipment. Adeline Fagan, a 28-year-old gynecologist living in Texas, suffered from asthma and had a long history of respiratory ailments.

Months after the pandemic, according to his family, he wore the same N95 mask over and over again, even during a high-risk rotation in the emergency room.

Her parents blame both hospital management and government mistakes for the shortage of personal protective equipment that may have contributed to Adeline’s death last September. Her mother, Mary Jane Abt-Fagan, said Adeline’s N95 had been reused so many times that the fibers were beginning to disintegrate.

Shortly before falling ill, and after being assigned to a high-risk ER rotation, Adeline spoke to her parents about spending her own money on an expensive N95 with a filter that could be changed daily. The $ 79 mask was a significant cost to his resident salary of $ 52,000.

“We told him to buy this mask, to buy the filters, that his father and I would pay for it. We didn’t care what it cost, ”said his mother, Abt-Fagan.

He never had a chance to use it. When the mask arrived, Adeline was already on a respirator at the hospital.

Fagan’s family is disappointed by the US government’s response to the pandemic.
“Nobody chooses to go to work and die,” Abt-Fagan said. “We have to be more prepared, and the government has to be more responsible for the safety of health workers.”

Adeline’s father, Brant Fagan, wants the government to start tracking the deaths of health care workers and examining the data to understand what went wrong. “This is how we are going to prevent this in the future,” he said. “Know the data, follow where science takes us.”

Adeline’s parents said her death has been especially painful for her youth, and for all the milestones in life that she never had a chance to experience. “Falling in love, buying a house, sharing your family and your life with your siblings,” said Adeline’s mother, Abt-Fagan. “It’s all those things that he missed that break a father’s heart.”