Frontline healthcare personnel at risk from COVID-19 because of age or chronic conditions, study finds

"Millions of health workers likely to be exposed to SARS–CoV-2 have medical conditions that increase their risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes."

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A new study finds 26.6 percent of America’s 14 million frontline healthcare personnel at serious risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 because of age or underlying health conditions, a new study found. According to the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, these patient-contact health personnel are of high risk because many suffer from medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

The study was conducted by researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) at Hunter College and Harvard Medical School. Researchers analyzed data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey and the March 2019 Current Population Survey (CPS) and identified doctors, nurses, and nursing aides with direct patient-contact who were 65 years of age or older, or had chronic disease such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, severe obesity, moderate or severe asthma, and liver disease. According to the study, “millions of health workers likely to be exposed to SARS–CoV-2 have medical conditions that increase their risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes.”

The study went on to reveal that 28.6 percent of the patient-contact health personnel in America lacked paid sick leave—30.5 percent of who are at risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes because of chronic conditions. And close to 275,000 of the patient-contact health personnel with high-risk conditions are also uninsured (11.4% with diabetes and 20.8% with chronic lung disease other than asthma), according to the study.

“While essential workers put themselves in harm’s way, Congress and the president are leaving many of them unprotected and impoverished,” Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-author of the study, and a professor at Hunter College and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, said.

According to the study, many health personnel also had family incomes below the poverty line, including 2.5 percent of hospital workers, 11.7 percent of nursing home workers, and 14.6 percent of home care workers.

“Health care workers are being celebrated as heroes, but they’re denied the health coverage, sick leave benefits, and incomes they need to protect themselves and their families,” Dr. David U. Himmelstein, lead author of the study and professor at CUNY’s Hunter College and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, said. “The pandemic has illuminated how warped our economy and values have become. Financiers working in plush offices or luxury homes make billions shorting stocks. Meanwhile, many Americans doing the most essential and dangerous work, including health personnel, grocery workers, bus drivers, or delivery drivers, can’t make ends meet or afford medical care.”

As frontline health personnel continue to face the pandemic head on, the lack of health insurance, paid sick leave and impoverishment “dishonors that service and threatens the well-being of both health workers and the public,” the study concluded.

“Our health insurance system is broken, and only Medicare for All can fix it,” Woolhandler said.

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