Not So Essential: Millions of Healthcare Providers Are Being Laid Off Amid the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has rattled the global economy in every possible way as millions of Americans file for unemployment each week. As the country teeters on the brink of recession, healthcare workers are starting to feel the pain as well. Despite being seen as essential, millions of nurses, doctors, and other staff members are losing hours and going on unemployment amid the pandemic, including those from major hospitals as well as smaller, independent offices.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, 1.4 million healthcare providers lost their jobs in April alone. So, why are so many providers getting laid off during one of the greatest health crises in history? Let’s find out.

Revenue Is Down

The U.S. healthcare system is quickly adapting to the reality of the pandemic. Many offices have closed their doors to limit the spread of the virus. Physicians and specialists are using telehealth to check up on their patients remotely. Elective procedures have also been banned in several states, so facilities have more room to care for patients who may be suffering from COVID-19. Limiting elective procedures also reduces the chances of cross-contamination in healthcare settings.

As a result of these changes, the healthcare industry is hemorrhaging money. Consumer healthcare spending was down 18% in the first quarter of the year. Healthcare is a business, after all, and some procedures and operations are more lucrative than others. Treating patients for coronavirus is not one of those lucrative procedures.

The American Hospital Association recently released a report predicting that the industry will lose around $200 billion dollars through June. The report anticipates that around $160 billion of that will come from missed or postponed elective procedures.

Lack of PPE

Keeping staff members and providers at home is also a way of conserving personal protection equipment. Nurses and doctors across the country have been protesting the lack of PPE in their home states. Canceling elective procedures is an easy way to make sure there are enough face masks, gloves, and hazmat suits for those still coming into work.

Working with Less

This sudden lack of extra help can push some medical teams to the breaking point. Many providers are doing jobs that they wouldn’t normally do, such as setting up pulley rail bars for lifting broken body parts, janitorial work, arranging rides for patients, FaceTiming family members, and creating quarantine areas.

Not So Essential

Going on unemployment can be a stern wake-up call for millions of professionals who are used to being employed. Michelle Sweeny, a nurse in Plymouth, MA who cares for patients with chronic conditions, recently saw her hours get cut. She told NPR in an interview, “It’s very devaluing, like a slap in the face. Nursing is who you are…I’ve never been unemployed in my entire life.”

Nurse managers across the country are trying to help their staff as much as possible during this stressful time. For example, Shawn Reed, an ER nurse at MultiCare Valley Hospital in Washington state, sacrificed her hours so one of her colleagues, a mother of three, could still receive a paycheck.

What Happens Next?

The freeze on elective procedures won’t last forever, so it’s likely that the industry will recoup much of these losses in the second half of the year. Many providers will likely start going back to work as well, but our post-pandemic future is still up in the air.

Many providers and patients will likely stick with telehealth once the pandemic is behind us. This may result in fewer onsite staff members, so some layoffs may be permanent.

If people are still suffering financially later this year, they may not be able to afford healthcare. Around 13 million Americans have already lost their employer-sponsored insurance due to the pandemic, so fewer people may seek out medical care in the months to come.

Even if many providers do get their jobs back later this year, going without a steady paycheck can be devastating for some individuals. Those monthly student loan payments can be crippling. According to recent reports, average monthly student loan payments are $196 for ADN RNs and $234 for BSN RNs. Nurses with an MSN face monthly bills of $544, on average.

The pandemic may force thousands of providers to default on their loans, mortgages, and other bills. Many will likely go into debt as well as the pandemic stretches on.

The idea of having a recession-proof job is quickly going away. As a healthcare provider, if you’ve recently lost your job due to the pandemic, tell us your story.

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