Covid-19 Take Heavy Toll on Filipino Health Care Workers

Covid-19 continues to take a toll on the first responders and health care workers who remain on the front lines across the U.S. Among those affected are Filipino-Americans, who in states like California and New York make up at least 20 percent of the nursing workforce (PBS, May 9, 2020)

Major excerpts of this blog entry came from PBS New Hour segment “Covid-19 Takes Heavy Toll on Filipino Health Care Workers, May 2020

I realized that I have over 12 cousins, nieces, and nephews that are working as the first responders and as health care workers in a hospital or care giving setting. They are at the patients’ bedsides and cannot socially distance themselves. They are in the front lines of fighting this epidemic.

Filipinos are integral to the infrastructure of the US healthcare system. It has been especially the nursing community, going back for decades and the numbers are staggering. One in four Filipinos in the New York City area, the epicenter fo Covid19 pandemic, are likely to be working in the health care industry. Filipinos are four times as likely to be nurses than any other immigrants in the US (Pro Publica, May 2020).

But the increased number of Filipinos working in the healthcare industry is not by accident. It is by design of the US immigration system and the increasing demands of the healthcare industry itself. Filipino health care workers are deeply rooted in the health care industry in the U.S. Nina Martin of Pro Publica said, “They were trained and recruited to come to the US to fill nursing shortages at different times in history. They settled here. They had immigrated and brought family members in. And those family members very often have become health care workers themselves.”

That is true. I have cousins who came to the US to become healthcare workers – nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, caregivers. And now, their US born children have followed their footsteps and have become front line health care workers themselves.

Many of these Filipino healthcare workers are not only recruited and ‘pulled’ by the US job market but also ‘pushed’ by the Philippine government to relieve the pressures of severe unemployment in the Philippines at various times in its history. They are heralded as “heroes” in bringing in badly needed remittances to the Philippines (Marketing Dreams, Manufacturing Heroes, Guevarra, 2009).

Now the tide has changed. There is a rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia in the air. Part of the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric is by calling Covid19 virus the “China virus.” Filipino Americans have been targeted along with other Asian Americans in this anti-immigrant drumbeat and are being considered “The Other”.

This is a problem. Many of my cousins and nephews are health care workers and are doing their jobs as front line health care workers. They are taking care of people by their bedside in the most vulnerable settings. They are doing critical care. They are unable to social distance and often times without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) in place.

At the same time, they are afraid to voice out their opinion. Perhaps they are unable to protest because of fear. They have relatives who have immigration visas in process and are fearful of speaking out and hurting the chances of other of other people in the family to immigrate. “The saber-rattling of the Trump administration of de-naturalizing citizens also create additional fear,” Nina Martin said of Pro Publica.

Despite all this they continue to do their jobs at the front lines of this epidemic. My hats off to my cousins, nieces, and nephews and other Filipinos in front lines of health care. They’re doing critical care at the bedside of patients who need urgent care. They doing it in quiet dignity.

About daleasis

President of the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide
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