Apr 6, 2020 - Health

The plight of health care's "forgotten" workers

A home care workers wears a mask and gloves as she drives in her car.

A home care worker drives to her client in March. Photo: Lane Turner/Boston Globe via Getty Images

The coronavirus has made life even more difficult for the 5 million aides and workers who care for the frail populations living at home and in nursing homes.

Why it matters: These low-paid workers face the conundrum of seeing patients and increasing risk of exposure and spread, or staying away at the expense of their income and patients who rely on that care.

By the numbers: Home health workers, nursing home assistants, and other therapists and orderlies hover around poverty and are predominantly women and people of color, according to PHI, a research group that studies this group of care workers.

  • 9 out of 10 of these workers are women.
  • Half are black or Hispanic.
  • A vast majority have no advanced degree, and median pay is between $11 and $15 an hour with little to no sick pay and benefits.

The big picture: It is almost impossible for workers to bathe, feed and otherwise care for their patients while social distancing, and a reliable source of masks or other protective gear for them is not guaranteed.

  • That makes their already high-risk job even more high risk for them, as well as their patients who are most likely to die from contracting COVID-19.
  • If they, their clients or the facilities decide to hold off on services, they lose what little income they have.

The bottom line: "There's no doubt that we're being sort of forgotten in all this, and I fear that mentality is going to eventually come back and punish us," Joe Russell, executive director of the Ohio Council for Home Care and Hospice, told the Washington Post.

Go deeper