Deaths Of 3 Black Healthcare Workers Highlights Unique Danger Posed By COVID-19 On Nonmedical Hospital Staff
Wayne Edwards, Derik Braswell and Priscilla Carrow all spent their last days getting little recognition for their work helping patients.
May 05, 2020 at 12:31 am
In a feature on Monday, The New York Times profiled some of the many Black and brown New Yorkers who have died after serving in invaluable healthcare facility roles.
Wayne Edwards, Derik Braswell and Priscilla Carrow worked ardently at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, ordering inventory, restocking rooms and handling supplies. But by April 12, all of them had passed away, according to The Times.
All three had spent decades working for the hospital but died after falling ill with COVID-19.
There was outrage across the country at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis about the lack of personal protective equipment being provided to nurses and doctors. While that problem has largely been dealt with, The Times story highlights the fact that the state forced hospitals to prioritize nurses and doctors for protective equipment while leaving all other healthcare workers with limited gear or without anything at all.
This rule has directly led to the deaths of dozens of people working in healthcare facilities across the city, according to the story.
Carrow, a 65-year-old union stewardess and local leader, died on March 30 while Edwards, 61, was found gasping for air on the floor of his apartment, dying just two days later. A friend who spoke to The Times said Edwards' kindness was "like a bottomless pit" throughout his more than 40 years working at the hospital. Braswell was Edwards' supervisor and died on April 12 at just 57 years old.
The three played integral roles in helping the hospital provide services, handing out supplies and materials in the building's basement. The Times said their reporting has indicated at least 32 nonmedical hospital workers in New York City have died during the pandemic.
The people holding jobs like these are almost always Black or Latino and make little money compared to their counterparts at hospitals. Yet despite the low pay, stories from co-workers said all three of them worked as long as they could, hoping to keep the hospital functioning, as many employees called out of work.
Data shows that in New York City’s public hospitals, 79% of the workers who assist doctors and nurses are Black or Hispanic. Union leaders said that despite begging for more protective equipment, they often had to reuse masks and gloves or go without the kind of equipment given to nurses and doctors.
“If you work in a hospital, you are exposed to the same kind of virus as the doctors and nurses. I understand management wanting to ration the supplies, but at what cost?” said Carmen Charles, president of the Local 420 union, adding that 11 members of her union have passed away.
Charles' union represents 8,500 nonmedical staff members at New York City hospitals.
Other hospitals across the city are also reporting deaths of nonmedical staff members, including five at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to inflict devastation on communities across the country, even as some states reopen.
While New York City seems to have been able to turn things around and flatten the curve, the city is still facing significant deaths, mostly in Black and Latino communities. Data emerging from New York City continues to show that the virus is killing an extraordinary amount of Black people for a variety of reasons.
On April 10, months after the coronavirus pandemic took the world by storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directly addressed the city's number of cases during a press conference, vowing to finally do more to help Black residents, The Hill reported. He also highlighted that the virus' toll on Black communities was due to the high number of Black people working as essential workers, particularly in health care.
“I also believe it's partially because you have more African Americans and Latinos in the public sector workforce, more of them were essential workers. They had to go to work. They didn't have the luxury of staying home. Frankly, they didn't have the luxury of going to this second-half home. They didn't have the luxury of going to stay with their sister in some other place," he said.
"They had to go drive the bus and they had to drive the train and they had to go to the hospital because of the healthcare workers. So let's understand it, let's learn about it, but then let's fix it. Let's fix it. And let's use this as a moment to understand the injustice and remedy it,” Cuomo added.
While the media has focused on nurses and doctors, little attention has been spared for other employees helping to keep hospitals running. Medical facilities have hundreds of people cleaning rooms, cooking food and transporting patients between different wings.
The largest nurses’ union in New York filed a lawsuit against the state's department of health because of initial policies that put the lives of those working in hospitals in extreme danger. The lawsuit was dismissed on Friday by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman.
Unrest is beginning to grow among Black New York leaders who have criticized Cuomo for directing resources like masks and gloves to lightly hit hospitals in Manhattan as opposed to devastated hospitals in Queens and Brooklyn, the Haitian Times reported.
“We want to make sure the resources are going to the communities who need it the most. Instead of the Javits Center and places like Central Park, maybe we needed more in Kings County and Prospect Park so people can get help,” New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.
“We failed certain communities, we just simply failed them. We had no plan for the most vulnerable in our city. We then told the most vulnerable Black and brown communities that they have to go to work to keep the city moving, essentially saying ‘You’re expendable for the real residents of the city,’” Williams added.
Nurses at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn held a protest, saying hospital workers needed more protective equipment in order to keep saving lives. Ada Brown, a certified nurse’s assistant, told the Gothamist that "they have to do better, in order to save lives. The nurses are dying out. The CNAs, dying out. Everybody’s dying out.”