'Swept under the rug': Health care workers have died from Covid. How many is unclear.
Monica Leigh Newton said she turned on her car's hazard lights and drove 100 mph to take her mother, Elaine McRae, to the emergency room in Gulfport, Mississippi, where the elderly woman was a nurse on the Covid-19 floor.
McRae's oxygen levels that August evening had dropped to levels that could cause brain damage. Newton's mother never returned home after testing positive for Covid-19 in the hospital. Seventy-two days later, in November, she died in the same hospital where she treated coronavirus patients.
"I literally watched her go from bad to worse," Newton said of her mother, whom she called her best friend and heroine. “She has lost everything I have ever seen my mother do. My mother is the strongest person in the world, and that virus has been slow to suck that out of her. "
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What bothers Newton is that no one knows exactly how many health care workers like her mother died from the coronavirus. In this way, the victims and the suffering they suffered from a disease that they fought so hard is quantified in a way.
As the death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise in the U.S., frontline health care deaths are largely ignored. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and support staff have boldly taken enormous risk during the pandemic, the most consuming health crisis in more than 100 years, but there is no specific death toll for them. These are the same people who, at the end of their shift, received applause and praise from the President and senior officials from government and industry.
That hits Newton particularly hard.
One of the last times she saw her mother, Newton shared the news that she had passed her board certification test to become a nurse. Now she works in a New Orleans hospital, trying hard to follow in her mother's footsteps and make sure her hero is remembered.
"We don't even know what or who we've lost," Newton said. “My mother survived this pandemic. She's helped these people and if my family hadn't said anything, they would have just said she was a different number. "
Calculating the exact number of U.S. healthcare workers who have died from Covid-19 and its associated complications is not easy and becomes increasingly difficult over time. There is no precise or centralized database of this information.
Dr. Claire Rezba, a Virginia anesthetist, has kept a national list that she has posted on her Twitter account since March when the pandemic began in the United States.
She continues to count obituaries, media reports, social media, monuments, and any other means she can find. Rezba tweets every day about the deaths of nurses, doctors, paramedics, specialists and staff.
Their number has hit nearly 1,700, a number she is sure is conservative.
"Every time I feel like it's time to stop - because it hurts me, there is an aspect that hurts - I'll see a different story or some posts," said Rezba. “And I think, 'Well, just this one. I just have to make sure people can still see this one. "
"It seems like there is no one who really takes the lead," she added. "I shouldn't be. I mean, that's ridiculous. Really, it's ridiculous."
A September report by National Nurses United, a nursing union, had an estimate slightly higher than Rezba's, with just over 1,700 health care worker deaths since the pandemic began.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent record, dated December 22, includes 955 deaths and more than 288,000 health worker infections. Of these cases of Covid-19 among healthcare workers, the CDC has only confirmed 75.7 percent of the time whether or not that doctor, nurse, paramedic, or ancillary staff member died.
A health and social services spokesman said the numbers were not exhaustive and noted that state health departments may have more accurate data.
Critics of the federal coronavirus response say the national census could be hampered by White House interference. The government announced its decision very suddenly in July that the Department of Health and Human Services should take over hospital coronavirus data collection from the CDC, making it difficult to track hospital trends and data reports.
"There is widespread opposition from the healthcare industry to transparently provide information about deaths of nurses and other healthcare workers due to Covid-19," the National Nurses United said in its study. "At the same time, federal, state, and local governments have not forced healthcare facilities to provide this data."
It is difficult to know which count is correct. According to the Nursing Union, only 15 states give the infection number for healthcare workers on a weekly basis, and it wasn't until May that nursing homes had to provide the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid with information about infection and mortality among their workers' services.
While the public can now access this information from nursing homes, hospitals do not need to share their data.
"I don't think health systems have done any service by not making public what is going on inside their walls," Rezba said. “Many of the deaths I find for healthcare workers are really mysterious. They are swept under the carpet. "
Image: An employee places her hand on a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on December 7, 2020. (Go Nakamura / Getty Images file)
Rezba stressed that these deaths also include the loss of an immense amount of expertise and knowledge that these healthcare workers possessed.
Newton said this was true of her mother, a nurse with decades of experience teaching her elements of nursing. She said she could never have studied in school.
"My mother was 100 percent fighting for her patients," she said. "And we lost that, society lost that - we lost someone who would have fought for everyone and everyone they came into contact with."
The last time Newton saw her mother, she couldn't speak because of the tubes in her mouth, but McRae confirmed the news that her daughter had passed the nursing committee exam.
"She was approachable, but she lost it," Newton said between sobs. "She just wasn't there anymore."
The federal government does not require hospitals to provide data on health care worker infection and death rates, and there is no central reporting structure for placement, said Katherine Hancock, senior nurse at the Cleveland Clinic, which oversees 70,000 health services workforce.
The Cleveland Clinic is tracking outbreaks in its medical facilities, she said. It reports these numbers and supports its employees with hospital stays and quarantines. There has been one fatality so far, but staff remain physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the pandemic.
"We follow it and talk about it all day: we not only pay attention to our patients obviously, but also to the number of carers who are absent due to Covid-19, those who are positive, those who are in the hospital and those who have returned to work, ”said Hancock. "So we have a very good grip, to be honest, and I don't know why others have had such trouble."
Without anyone tracking these deaths, it is left to families, friends, and communities who have lost loved ones who have been in the healthcare sector to make sure their victims are not forgotten. All of this is a greater relief for many as the holidays and the desire to check in with the family have arrived.
PICTURED: Medical workers dance to Christmas carols on December 10, 2020 at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. (File Go Nakamura / Getty Images)
Shon Matthews, 48, a medic in Texarkana, Arkansas, found he caught the virus in late September - after volunteering to find a colleague who tested positive for Covid-19. When he began to cough and had difficulty breathing, he packed a bag and told his wife, Jennifer, that she had to drive him to the hospital.
Twelve days later, he called Jennifer to tell her he had to be put on a ventilator because he could no longer breathe on his own.
Matthews died on November 2nd in a hospital in Temple, Texas.
"He was my everything," said Jennifer between sobs. "We started dating at 16 and got married at 18. He's been in my life for 30 years. He was my best friend. We tried to do everything together."
Matthew's father Willie moved back to Texarkana in hopes of spending more time with his son, whom he only got to see once or twice a year because work had made him move away.
They got to spend two weeks together before Matthews tested positive. The vacation without him - a great cook, family game lover, and great prankster - was and will be difficult, said Willie Matthews.
"We're just trying to go on and make things as happy as possible," he said in a trembling voice. "Sometimes people say things to comfort you that really break your heart, but that's because it's about Shon."
But the memories, the awards, the recognition of Matthews' work, sacrifice and dedication to his work as a medic have warmed his father's heart and made it a little easier to cope with this loss.
"They had several fundraisers here, the community was really committed to helping Shon and his family," said Willie Matthews. "And so we're really grateful for all the things they did in his honor, because we're really very proud of our son."
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