The Scientific American lists the most dangerous jobs in America every year. They recently released the list for 2020. One of the deadliest professions was caring for vulnerable adults in nursing homes. Death rates among nursing home staff ranked among the highest based on available data. Incredible. These caregivers deserve a living wage, benefits, and safe staffing.
The high toll among nursing home residents is well known. Workers in nursing facilities had at least 80 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees last year. The data is limited because deaths were only reported from last May onward. The full year’s actual death rate for nursing home staff may exceed all other professions.
Nursing homes are chronically understaffed. This increases the dangers to caregivers. Short-staffing hurts residents AND caregivers. Direct caregivers provide custodial care and personal hygiene including bathing, shaving, brushing teeth, and feeding residents. They also need to offload or turn and reposition every two hours to avoid pressure injuries. Studies show Certified nurse aides perform 95% of the direct care to residents. Yet most of these caregivers receive minimum wage with no sick leave.
David Grabowski is a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. He says he is “not at all surprised” at the high death rate among nursing home staff.
“Society never really invested in these workers,” he says. They are predominantly women, people of color and immigrants, he notes, and “we’ve exploited that workforce for a long time.”