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They're helping fight the pandemic. Yet, they don't get sick leave or health insurance.

Despite putting their lives at risk, with no health insurance or paid sick leaves, these hourly workers don't have a safety net to fall back on.

They're helping fight the pandemic. Yet, they don't get sick leave or health insurance.
Cover Image Source: Velocity Urgent Care x-ray technician and medical assistant Britni Chavis prepares to test a patient for the novel coronavirus April 15, 2020, in Woodbridge, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The past few months have seen the healthcare industry gaining immense attention and recognition across the globe. As our first line of defense in the fight against this pandemic, doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, etc. are being raised onto pedestals as the brave heroes risking their lives to save mankind and rightfully so. However, these accolades and adulations evade the one overlooked class of healthcare workers: home health aides, records clerks, nursing assistants, and hospital janitors. Despite their lives being at just as much risk, with no health insurance or paid sick leaves, these hourly workers don't have a safety net to fall back on.



"As a nurse or a doctor, at least you're getting paid a decent amount of money to risk your life," a clerical worker at the University Medical Center New Orleans told Buzzfeed News. "It pisses me off because they're not looking out for the most vulnerable people who don't have benefits." She fell sick in early March after spending her shifts going in and out of patients’ rooms collecting insurance forms as the novel coronavirus first began spreading in the United States. She came down with chills, body aches, and shortness of breath in early March and although her test came back negative for COVID-19, given concerns about some tests returning false negatives, she doesn't trust her test result.



The woman—who wished to stay anonymous—was earning just $15 an hour when risking infection at work and unlike the clinical staff at her hospital, doesn’t get paid sick time or vacation days. Neither does she get health insurance. The only reason she isn't burdened by thousands of dollars of medical debt right now is that she was paid so little working for at the hospital that she qualified for the state's Medicaid program. "They want people to risk their lives and get paid little to nothing. It's not worth it. It's just not," she said.



According to a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 800,000 healthcare workers and almost 1.1 million of their children live in poverty across the United States. Of the roughly 18.5 million people employed in the US health industry, nearly 10%—1.7 million—earn so little that they get healthcare through Medicaid. Meanwhile, another 1.4 million have no health insurance. Moreover, researchers found that women of color are overrepresented in the industry's lowest-paid rungs with nearly half of black and Latina women healthcare workers earning less than $15 an hour.



Atheendar Venkataramani, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s authors, said: "It's a vast, unseen, low-paid workforce. There's a tremendous amount of wage inequality in healthcare, and typically these low-wage jobs are held by women and underrepresented minorities." Sepia Coleman, a healthcare worker in Memphis who has spent three decades of her life working in the industry, knows the struggle all too well. She balances two jobs—one as a home health aide at $10.50 an hour and another on the night shift at a nursing home at $12 an hour—to get by.



"We are in the room when no one else is. Doctors and nurses only come in to do things like administer medications; we're there all the time. We have to make sure their vitals are OK. We have to watch them to see if they have any change in behavior or color. We are beyond essential. We are the main component of the healthcare system, but we get no credit for that," she said. "I work with sick patients. That's what I do. Why not give us sick pay? I'm disgusted and I'm really hurt. I knew the healthcare system was broken, but this pandemic has shown their true colors with all the greed and neglect — not just of residents, but of us, too. It's just like they don't care."



Disclaimer: Information about the pandemic is swiftly changing, and Upworthy is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency in developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication. Therefore, we encourage you to also regularly check online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization.

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