Study reveals experience of health care workers supporting underserved communities during COVID-19

A Rutgers study provides new insight into the experiences and perspectives of Black and Latinx people working in supportive healthcare roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study is the first to focus on the experience of healthcare workers supporting underserved communities during the pandemic. While nurses and doctors are the most recognized frontline workers, there are a variety of other roles in healthcare that are overshadowed and paid less, such as certified nursing assistants, therapists, staff emergency medical services and food services and custodial staff. This critical workforce includes nearly 7 million people, most of whom are Black and Latina women and live in the communities they serve.

The results, which appear in the journal PLOS ONE, can be used to develop public health messages and strategies.

Researchers interviewed 17 Black or Latino women in health care support roles at hospitals, nursing homes and home care sites in four New Jersey counties with high rates of infections and deaths by COVID-19.

The study revealed that:

  • The pandemic has disrupted their responsibilities and professional roles. Concerns ranged from changes in job duties, increased hours and learning new technologies to changes in safety protocol and a lack of personal protective equipment.
  • They experienced testing irregularities; some participants reported frequent testing, while others were not required to take tests. Many have taken it upon themselves to test themselves to keep their families safe.
  • Participants experienced fear and uncertainty, including worries about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to their families or losing their jobs or part of their income. They also expressed concerns about informing their employers about possible exposure and the resulting stigmatization among co-workers after testing positive.
  • Their vaccine skepticism and decisions have evolved over time. Initial concerns about vaccines ranged from questions about side effects, trial data and experiences of failed public health interventions in minority populations. Those opposed to vaccination said their views changed after seeing their colleagues get vaccinated and after getting vaccine data from trusted sources. Participants also expressed concern about vaccine mandates and the implications for their current use.

Our findings illustrate the critical need for health systems to devote resources to improving the working conditions of this marginalized workforce, including providing resources that support resilience as well as addressing wages, working conditions physical and mental requirements, health, safety and well-being to retain them. in their roles.”

Zorimar Rivera-Núñez, First Author, Assistant Professor, Rutgers School of Public Health

“A transparent dialogue directly addressing questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine by trusted entities or individuals can help increase the number of immunized people in this workforce.”

The study was conducted as part of NJ HEROES TOO (New Jersey Healthcare Essential Worker OutReach and Education Study – Testing Overlooked Occupations) in collaboration with 18 community organizations and four healthcare organizations, funded by the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP).


Journal reference:

Rivera-Núñez, Z., et al. (2022) Black and Latino Health Care Workers’ Experiences in Supporting Roles During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study. PLOS ONE.

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