In case you didn’t hear, September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic American Heritage Month, celebrating Latin and Hispanic culture from over 30 different nations. It might seem like a strange time to celebrate this group, considering everything that’s happened this year. The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly destructive for the Latinx community. Hispanic neighborhoods tend to have less access to healthcare than those occupied by other groups.
For this year’s celebration, we’re taking a moment to remember what this community has lost over the last six months, while celebrating everything Hispanic nurses and providers have done for our country during this crisis.
National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2020
This event has long been a way to celebrate the unique traditions and customs of Hispanic peoples right here in the U.S. Estimates show that there are around 52 million Latinx individuals living in the country. Of them, 48 million have full citizenship. They are considered the second-largest ethnic group in the nation.
Many members of this community are considered essential workers, including child and elderly caregivers, utility and grocery store workers, and those working in construction, landscaping, and home improvement. Many people lost their jobs when the country started closing down in March.
According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate for Hispanics increased from 4.8% in February to a peak of 18.5% in April before dropping to 14.5% in June. Many Latinx individuals and households were suffering financially before the pandemic, and now many are at risk of falling behind on their bills.
About six in ten Latinos (59%) in May said they live in households that have experienced job losses or pay cuts due to the coronavirus outbreak, with a far lower share of U.S. adults (43%) overall saying the same. Most do not have savings to pay for three months of living expenses, which puts this group at risk of eviction and homelessness. This community will likely feel the pinch from the pandemic for years to come, making it harder for individuals to go to college, access healthcare, or buy a house or car.
Even though many of us have started looking forward to our post-COVID-19 future, the Hispanic community remains less optimistic. In August, 70% surveyed said the worst of the problems due to the coronavirus outbreak are still to come.
We know that people of color tend to get sick and die from COVID-19 more often than white Americans, but the data remains incomplete. Many areas and facilities do not report the ethnicity of their patients. According to NPR, Hispanics make up around 21.1% of all deaths related to the virus, but they make up just 17% of the population. These differences are getting more apparent across the country.
In May, Hispanics were dying at a faster rate of COVID-19 than white Americans in just seven states. Today, this is true of 19 states as well as the District of Columbia.
Shining a Light on Hispanic Nurses
Hispanic nurses have been the backbone of our country’s response to the pandemic, and they often don’t get the attention they deserve. There are around 135,600 Hispanic/Latino RNs and 51,800 LPNs in the U.S., representing around 4% of the country’s 3.8 million nurses.
Advocates are calling for more diversity in our country’s healthcare system, so the increasing number of Latinx residents can access care from providers that share their background.
The National Association of Hispanic Nurses has been at the center of this fight. The group recently received a generous grant from the National Institutes of Health to implement a public education and outreach project that seeks to increase diversity in the nursing workforce. This includes money for recruiting Hispanic individuals with an interest in nursing, training providers who are fluent in Spanish, and increasing collaboration between healthcare and community leaders.
They point to the fact that by 2043, the U.S. is projected to become a majority minority nation for the first time in its history. The Hispanic population will more than double between now and 2060, so we need to start building a network of Latinx providers sooner rather than later. These providers will be more sensitive to the needs of Hispanic individuals and households, including issues related to cultural identification, spiritual affiliation, language, and gender.
Dan Suarez, MA, RN, NYAM, clinical liaison manager at Mount Sinai Health System and a longtime member of the NAHN, would like to see more providers mentor aspiring Hispanic professionals who want to get started in the field. This also includes appointing more Hispanic nurses to hospital boards, so they can be a part of decision-making processes.
He also talks about changing the nature of our country’s medical schools, so new students have the support they need to pursue a career in medicine. He says student nurses must take a variety of different classes, including those in pharmacology, chemistry, and biology, so we need to get young people in the community interested in science early on.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on Hispanic Americans across the country. Now we need to work on reversing the damage that’s already been done, while paving the way for the Latinx leaders of tomorrow.