At height of pandemic, 1.4 million US health workers lose jobs

Ivan Couronne - Agence France-Presse
At height of pandemic, 1.4 million US health workers lose jobs
A healthcare worker checks in a resident for a free COVID-19 test at the Bethany Baptist Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on May 13, 2020.
AFP / Angela Weiss

WASHINGTON, United States — Dayna James has been an emergency nurse for 17 years — and thought the COVID-19 pandemic would mean she'd have more work than ever. 

Instead, she's filing for unemployment benefits, an ironic twist of fate shared by 1.4 million of America's 18 million health care personnel who have lost their jobs since March — including 135,000 hospital workers.

"Here in south Florida, we don't have the patients, the hospital can't afford all of the staff to be on duty and just sit around," said James.

The 40-year-old mother of four lost a two day a week teaching job at a university hospital in March, and is barely getting any work at the children's hospital in Miami where she was previously a regularly contracted nurse.

The United States is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 80,000 deaths and almost 1.4 million confirmed cases.

Epicenters include New York, New Jersey and other cities across the country, but not all regions have been affected equally, with certain localities seeing a far lower COVID-19 caseload.

At the same time, elective procedures have all been put on hold since March, people with chronic illnesses or even emergencies are avoiding coming to hospitals out of fear they may become infected with the virus, and lockdowns have reduced the numbers of accidents.

James does remain on call — and was able to work on Sunday because of a shortage of staff on Mother's Day — but her family is now mainly relying on her husband's salary.

"I see other places keeping nurses on staff just in case. It just feels somewhat unfair," she said.

In the capital Washington, a 34-year-old nurse who works in pre- and post-operative care at a major hospital said that she too was struggling.

"COVID has basically made my job almost obsolete," she said.  

"We haven't done elective surgeries in two months, which is the main source of revenue for our department."

The nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, is employed on a "per diem" basis, like many in the US health care system. 

Her weekly hours had gone down from 36 to around nine, and she is relying on unemployment benefits and her savings.

'House of cards'

For Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, the outcomes have exposed the weaknesses inherent in the business models adopted by US health care providers.

"American health care is financed, expanded and makes a great many people wealthy by doing very expensive test and elective procedures, and building giant hospitals that are geared toward that type of business model," he said.

This has created incentives geared toward testing and intervention, whether they are medically really needed or not.

Health insurers, both public and private, "pay for putting tubes into people, not for talking to people," he said.

Since there is no single-payer public authority that mediates and caps prices, costs depend on negotiations between hospitals and insurers and have been rising for decades.

"It's always been a house of cards, and what blew it down was a virus," added Markel.

He is employed by the university's medical school which is not paying contributions into employee's retirement accounts for a period of one year starting July.

Stimulus falls short

The American Hospital Association has estimated that losses across the sector for the March-June period will be $200 billion.

The organization predicts that reimbursements for COVID-19 patients, as well as $100 billion set aside for hospitals as part of a federal stimulus package, will be insufficient to cover the costs — which can exceed $80,000 for patients on ventilators, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Beyond hospitals, other parts of the medical system have shut down entirely during the lockdown.

Dentists' offices have lost 500,000 jobs in one month, according to official statistics. Optometrists and physiotherapists have been similarly affected. 

Even in New York, pulmonologists closed their offices. Len Hurovitz, who is also an internist and runs a small practice with two employees, stopped everything for five weeks.

"It was about the third week in March when the phone stopped ringing — it was like a neutron bomb had gone off," he said.

He has since re-opened, initially for telemedicine and now other consultations — with many of his patients coming in for COVID-19 antibody testing.

vuukle comment



As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 1, 2023 - 2:35pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

October 1, 2023 - 2:35pm

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says on Sunday that he had contracted COVID-19, testing positive at a key point in his flailing campaign for re-election.

Hipkins saYS on his official social media feed that he would need to isolate for up to five days -- less than two weeks before his country's general election.

The leader of the centre-left Labour Party said he started to experience cold symptoms on Saturday and had cancelled most of his weekend engagements. — AFP

August 18, 2023 - 4:25pm

The World Health Organization and US health authorities say Friday they are closely monitoring a new variant of COVID-19, although the potential impact of BA.2.86 is currently unknown. 

The WHO classified the new variant as one under surveillance "due to the large number (more than 30) of spike gene mutations it carries", it wrote in a bulletin about the pandemic late Thursday. 

So far, the variant has only been detected in Israel, Denmark and the United States. — AFP

August 11, 2023 - 7:07pm

The World Health Organization says on Friday that the number of new COVID-19 cases reported worldwide rose by 80% in the last month, days after designating a new "variant of interest".

The WHO declared in May that Covid is no longer a global health emergency, but has warned that the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, causing occasional spikes in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

In its weekly update, the UN agency said that nations reported nearly 1.5 million new cases from July 10 to August 6, an 80% increase compared to the previous 28 days. — AFP

June 24, 2023 - 11:50am

The head of US intelligence says that there was no evidence that the COVID-19 virus was created in the Chinese government's Wuhan research lab.

In a declassified report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) says they had no information backing recent claims that three scientists at the lab were some of the very first infected with COVID-19 and may have created the virus themselves.

Drawing on intelligence collected by various member agencies of the US intelligence community (IC), the ODNI report says some scientists at the Wuhan lab had done genetic engineering of coronaviruses similar to COVID-19. — AFP 

June 15, 2023 - 5:42pm

Boris Johnson deliberately misled MPs over Covid lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street when he was prime minister, a UK parliament committee ruled on Thursday.

The cross-party Privileges Committee said Johnson, 58, would have been suspended as an MP for 90 days for "repeated contempts (of parliament) and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process".

But he avoided any formal sanction by his peers in the House of Commons by resigning as an MP last week.

In his resignation statement last Friday, Johnson pre-empted publication of the committee's conclusions, claiming a political stitch-up, even though the body has a majority from his own party.

He was unrepentant again on Thursday, accusing the committee of being "anti-democratic... to bring about what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination".

Calling it "beneath contempt", he said it was "for the people of this to decide who sits in parliament, not Harriet Harman", the veteran opposition Labour MP who chaired the seven-person committee. — AFP

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with