COVID-19 and the Economic Impact on Healthcare Workers
By: Kendall Dean
Project COPE has been surveying healthcare workers to understand their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. While healthcare jobs tend to be fairly immune to economic downturns, we are aware that this pandemic has made it financially challenging for those in this field. In the past couple of months, we have seen healthcare workers with reduced hours as well as those who have been furloughed. Some healthcare practices have been forced to close their doors, and although stay-at-home orders have loosened over the months, many are worried about their ability to reopen their practices in a safe manner that protects not only themselves but also their patients.
According to the US Department of Labor, job losses for healthcare workers have been second only to those in the restaurant industry. The burden of job loss is largely on “non-essential” healthcare workers. That’s not to say that “essential” healthcare workers are not being affected as well. Many hospital-based healthcare workers were asked to rally and support the COVID-19 care effort from March to May. As the COVID-19 numbers have dwindled and many states are working to reopen, potential patients are still avoiding hospitals for their own safety, and elective surgeries are only recently happening again. All of this means that hospitals are losing revenue, and like other businesses, are having to slash pay and hours, if not laying off staff altogether. For some healthcare workers, this means early retirement. While many are aware of the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the healthcare system, few recognize how hard this pandemic is economically impacting the system.
A HealthLandscape survey has found that 58,025 family physicians have lost their job since the start of this health crisis. Additionally, this survey revealed that family medicine offices had over $64 trillion dollars lost in wages and salaries. The potential causes include “loss of revenue, drastic reduction in hours and staff, and the reassignment of physicians to hospital-based COVID-19 care.” This survey also shows a shortage of healthcare workers in 1,841 out of 3,141 counties across the United States. From March to June, the number of counties that had a shortage of healthcare workers increased by over a thousand. For other healthcare workers, especially those considered “non-essential,” it is no longer financially feasible to keep their small practices open.
As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, we see that “non-essential” workers are facing just as many economic difficulties as their “essential” counterparts. Optometry, massage therapy, and chiropractic offices are considered “non-essential”. For many of these offices, they have to deal with the tremendous economic burden of trying to ensure they have a practice to open, which can only happen when they are given the “okay” to do so.
While the economic burden of COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, it adds to the already difficult and complex effects that a pandemic has on a healthcare system. Hopefully, as we move forward, we will have a better understanding of how to help our healthcare system recover from COVID-19, economically and otherwise.
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