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The Biden government is increasingly being asked to establish a national system to track 19 frontline health care deaths to honor the thousands of nurses, doctors and support staff who have died and to ensure future generations don’t do so forced are the same ultimate – and in many cases unnecessary – sacrifice.
Health policy experts and union leaders are urging the White House to act quickly to fill the void the Trump administration has left for failure to produce an accurate count of frontline worker deaths. The lack of reliable federal data exacerbated critical problems such as the lack of personal protective equipment to which many workers were exposed, with dire consequences.
In the absence of federal action, Lost on the Frontline, a joint project by The Guardian and KHN, has compiled the nation’s most comprehensive report of health worker deaths. 3,607 people were killed in the first year of the pandemic, with tragically high numbers affecting nurses, health care workers and doctors, as well as workers under the age of 60 and people of color.
The Guardian / KHN investigation, which has involved more than 100 reporters, ends this week. The pressure on the federal government to step into the breach is growing.
Harvey Fineberg, a leading health policy expert who approved a recent National Academy of Sciences report quoting the Frontline project and recommending the creation of a federal government-run national tracking system, supported calls for change. He said his ideal solution would be a national record.
“There would be a combination of selective look-back to get more accurate tables of past exposure and a data collection system that is predictive to ensure a more complete count [the] Future, ”he said.
Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of National Nurses United, the largest group of registered nurses in the United States, said it was incomprehensible how many healthcare workers died from Covid-19. The interactive KHN / Guardian found that nearly a third of those who died were nurses – the largest single occupation – followed by support staff (20%) and doctors (17%).
Triunfo-Cortez said the death toll had been an unacceptable tragedy, compounded by the lack of federal data, which made it difficult to identify problem areas. “We as nurses didn’t deserve this – we signed up to take care of the patients, we didn’t sign up to die,” she said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, also sees a frontline role in federal agencies in tracking mortality among health care workers. In an interview with The Guardian, he expressed a desire for a definitive picture of the number of people.
“We definitely want to get an accurate count of the people who have died,” he said. “This is something I think would come under federal government auspices, probably in health and welfare.”
The lack of federal information on frontline health care deaths was one of the reasons the Trump administration’s botched response to the crisis. The primary health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while curating some information, has itself acknowledged that its own record of 1,527 health worker deaths – more than 2,000 fewer than the joint Guardian / KHN record – is due to limitations represents an undercount in its data collection.
Overall, it has been found that healthcare workers are uniquely at risk from the pandemic. Some studies have shown that they are more than three times more likely to get Covid than the general population.
So far there is no evidence that the Biden administration is taking active steps to build a comprehensive data system. An HHS spokesman said the department had no plans to do a full census. However, Triunfo-Cortez said the White House and key federal agencies have a new willingness to listen and get involved.
“We have worked with the Biden administration and they have been open to the changes we are proposing,” said Triunfo-Cortez. “We are confident that they will start reporting deaths because if we don’t have this data, how do we know how effectively we can stop the pandemic?”
The new administration’s responsiveness is likely to be enhanced by the fact that Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain has a track record of fighting infectious disease outbreaks. In 2014 President Barack Obama named him “Ebola Tsar”.
In an article in The Guardian last August, Klain drew on the results of “Lost on the Frontline” to decipher the ultimate price paid by healthcare workers: “Although America applauded healthcare workers, it did them Chopped pots in honor and offered grateful video honors We have repeatedly failed where it was most important. “
David Blumenthal, Obama’s national health information technology coordinator, said a national tracking system was an important step in healing the wounds of the pandemic. “So many health care workers feel that their dedication and sacrifice are not valued,” he said. “We have to fight the widespread fatigue and disappointment.”
KHN correspondent Christina Jewett contributed to this report.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces extensive journalism on health issues. Alongside Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three most important operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a foundation that provides health information to the nation.
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