According to an investigation by The Guardian and Kaiser Health News, over 3,600 health care workers died in the U.S. during the first 12 months of the pandemic. The report, Lost on the Frontline, is the most comprehensive account of health care workers deaths available to date. (1)
Investigation Tracks Deaths Of Pandemic Heroes
The investigation tracked pandemic-related deaths, uncovering many failings in the health system since the pandemic first arrived in the U.S. Perhaps the most disturbing finding is that two-thirds of the health care workers who died were people of color. This points to the disturbing inequalities existing in America’s health care workforce. (1)
Findings From Pandemic Heroes’ Investigation
It also showed those caring for COVID patients tended to be the lowest paid workers such as nurses and support staff. The investigation notes that in most cases the loss of health care workers lives could have been prevented had the following issues been managed better: (1)
- Shortages of personal protective gear (PPE)
- Poor testing
- Weak contact tracing
- Inconsistent mask guidance by the government
- Errors by employers
- Poor enforcement of workplace safety rules by government regulators
These failings had a major impact on the increased risk of death or illness for front line health care workers. In fact, according to studies, those health care workers were three times more likely to become ill from the virus compared to the general public. (1)
Dr. Fauci Praises Pandemic Heroes
“We rightfully refer to these people without hyperbole — that they are true heroes and heroines,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci. He believes that so many covid deaths are “a reflection of what health care workers have done historically, by putting themselves in harm’s way, by living up to the oath they take when they become physicians and nurses.” (1)
Death Of First Of The Pandemic Heroes
The investigation began with the death of the first known emergency doctor to die of the virus, Frank Gabrin. He was faced with the wave of cases in New York and New Jersey, working to save lives without proper PPE. At age 60, his death was the first recorded by the Lost on the Frontline team. (1)
Emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez had 11 colleagues die working at Newark’s University Hospital in New Jersey. “It literally decimated our staff,” she says. (1)
100 Journalists Contribute to Investigation
The investigation included data from over 100 journalists who were tireless in their efforts to collect and confirm the information. The findings included: (1)
- Over half of the deaths were people under 60 compared to the median age of 78.
- Over a third were born outside the U.S. with a disproportionate number from the Philippines.
- There were twice as many deaths of staff from nursing homes compared to hospitals.
- High performance PPE was reserved for intubation procedures in the early days
- The CDC instructed health care workers that surgical masks provided enough protection for routine patient care.
With 4,100 safety complaints filed by health care workers in the early days, their frustration and fear was clear. Most referred to PPE shortages, but regulators failed to respond or provide assistance.
Thankfully, the amount of deaths for health care workers has dropped with the arrival of vaccines. However, there are still 400 health care worker deaths recorded post-vaccine so far. (1)