The coronavirus pandemic has proven the immeasurable value of front-line health care workers like nurses and doctors. Unfortunately, that value has not translated to financial security for all of those who work in a health care setting.
In fact, one in three health care workers report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their financial security, according to the HERO Registry Financial Impact survey. The survey, fielded in January, measured the financial security of over 2,000 health care workers across the country.
Health care workers worry about meeting financial obligations
More than a third (34%) of those who work in health care are more worried about meeting financial obligations amid the coronavirus pandemic than they were pre-pandemic. Health care workers who reported experiencing financial insecurity cited a few reasons for their increased level of concern:
- Having to leave their jobs to take care of a family member
- Handling the unexpected loss of a family member’s job
- Incurring unexpected costs associated with being sick from COVID-19
A person’s finances are clearly affected by their line of work, but there are many other factors that can impact financial security. For example, health care workers with kids may be dealing with the added cost of child care, due to the shift to remote learning during the pandemic. Others may have made the choice not to go to work in an effort to protect an immunocompromised family member, thus losing out on income.
Among health care workers surveyed, respondents also reported the following shifts in their financial situations during the pandemic, which may be contributing to increased financial stress:
- Changes in retirement and health benefits
- Modifications in how overtime pay is allocated
- Unexpected child care costs
- The rising costs of housing
Cuts to income, hours and furloughs despite crisis
In many communities, the coronavirus pandemic has front-line health care staff working overtime. Some workers have had to leave their normal rotation to administer COVID-19 testing or take care of patients sick with COVID-19. Still, a large segment of health care workers reported reduced income (22%) or fewer work hours (18%).
Reduced income was most commonly reported among the following health care professionals:
- Physicians (31%)
- Health technologists and technicians (23%)
- Physician assistants and nurse practitioners (22%)
- Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (21%)
These reductions in income and hours may seem counterintuitive — especially when so many health care workers are deemed essential — but many providers had to shut their doors in the early stages of the pandemic. With the postponement of nonessential medical services, specialists like dentists and surgeons were left without patients.
In addition to reduced hours and income, about one in 10 health care workers were unable to work at some point during the pandemic because they were furloughed or forced to take a leave of absence. In a time when it may seem like the demand for hospital staff would have increased, this trend has left some in the industry concerned, the survey found.
"It is telling that hospital workers are losing their jobs, and the fact that they are being laid off from an industry that is always working them short staffed, even in a pandemic, makes an interesting, new, unexplored reality," said one anonymous respondent. "Is money more important than helping people?"
Methodology: More than 2,000 health care workers responded to the HERO Registry Financial Impact survey, which was conducted in January 2021. The HERO (Healthcare Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes) Registry, coordinated by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, connects members of the health care field and collects research on their work and life experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.