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Black, Latinx health care workers in supporting roles found to be overworked in recent Rutgers study

By February 11, 2022COVID-19

A recent Rutgers study examined how the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has affected Black and Latinx health care workers who serve in supporting roles, including custodians, laboratory technicians and therapists.

Zorimar Rivera-Núñez, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, discussed the findings of the study.

She said the New Jersey Healthcare Essential Worker Outreach and Education Study (NJ HEROES) aimed to examine the role played by Black and Latinx individuals serving in essential support positions in order to understand some of the subtle effects on those communities.

“NJ HEROES is part of a larger (National Institutes of Health) initiative to understand factors associated with disparities in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, particularly in those underserved and vulnerable populations,” Rivera-Núñez said. “In New Jersey, Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 pandemic.”

She also said the most important finding from the study was that health care workers in supporting roles have been significantly overworked and have not been provided with adequate assistance.

“The pandemic has exposed the stress endured by an essential workforce that plays a critical role in health care,” Rivera-Núñez said.

While the researchers knew that Black and Latinx communities were heavily affected by the pandemic, she said that learning this first-hand provided great insight into how members of this workforce manage working in high-risk situations, both personally and professionally. 

The researchers interviewed Black and Latinx individuals who worked in supporting roles for several health care providers in New Jersey. The study included workers from inpatient and outpatient care settings through university hospitals, long-term care and homecare, Rivera-Núñez said.

Participants were health care employees over 18 years of age who identified as Black or Latinx and identified English or Spanish as their primary language, according to the study. They were also individuals from four counties that had displayed a high impact from COVID-19 and significant Black and Latinx populations, she said.

The researchers conducted one-on-one and group interviews and analyzed the data by summarizing transcripts and taking information from each specific interview. Common themes included the need to quickly adapt to new prevention measures and expectations as well as changes in attitudes toward vaccines, according to the study.

“The pandemic has caused fear and uncertainties about their jobs and personal life,” Rivera-Núñez said. “Perspectives on vaccines reportedly changed over time, and were influenced by peers’ vaccination and information from trusted sources.”

In addition, due to varying workplace requirements regarding frequent COVID-19 testing, many health care workers took it upon themselves to test regularly in order to keep their friends and family safe, according to the study.

The study also had participants discuss the loss of personal connections with patients and their family members, which included being unable to provide physical comfort to patients.

Rivera-Núñez said that overall, the study demonstrated that the pandemic impacted the job responsibilities and work setting of health care workers. Many of them began to fear losing a portion of their income, losing their job or infecting family members if they tested positive.

The team will continue to examine COVID-19 testing in Black and Latinx communities, she said. They will look at contributing factors to at-home testing in those populations and explore how researchers and community members can collaborate during public health emergencies.

“This is a critical workforce, who are mostly women, that provide frontline essential care yet they are poorly compensated and under-recognized,” Rivera-Núñez said. “Health systems must work to improve work conditions for this marginalized group to ensure their wellbeing and support their critical role in our communities during this pandemic and future public health emergencies.”

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