Stop Scapegoating Care Workers
In the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, nursing home staff are increasingly being blamed for the pandemic's death toll. But accusing front-line care workers merely highlights – and compounds – the widespread failure of the public and policymakers to take their responsibilities seriously and behave accordingly.
WASHINGTON, DC – After a two-year pandemic, with the Omicron variant raging and uncertainty ahead, there is an understandable desire to blame someone for the appalling death toll from COVID-19. And in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, fingers are increasingly being pointed at nursing home workers. As one recent prominent study puts it, “Nursing home staff are considered to be a source of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in nursing homes.”
Such statements are not only unfair at the individual level; they are also the wrong way to think about how to avoid deaths in the future. It would be much better to face our broader social responsibilities, to consider other sources of viral spread such as hospitals and nursing home visitors, and to spend more resources building trust in public-health systems.
People live in nursing homes because they have no alternative, either because they are recovering from surgery (often, for many people over the age of 80, after a slip and fall), or because they have a long-term condition that requires continuous medical attention. Nursing home residents require daily care from trained nurses and other skilled personnel. This is always hard work, and when a pandemic arrives, it is also dangerous.