Filipino Nurses Hardest Hit in US

RM Ambrose/ October 6, 2020/ Uncategorized/ 0 comments

Nearly 70% of the nurses claimed by Covid are Filipino.

According to statistics from the California Nurses Association


Why are Filipino nurses dying at a higher rate?

I’ve seen a number of compelling profiles of Filipino nurses in the US since a report came out on September 28 from the National Nurses United union. It said Filipinos make up only 4% of the workforce, but 31.5% (nearly 1/3) of nurse deaths from COVID-19.

In California, where Tagalog (a.k.a., Filipino or Pilipino) is the third most spoken language (i.e., if you don’t lump Mandarin and Cantonese together as “Chinese”) and Filipino nurses comprise 20% of the nursing workforce, with more than 2/3 (according to the California Nurses Association), nearly 70% of the nurses claimed by Covid are Filipino.

The Philippines has a history of a labor surplus. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) make a significant contribution to the Philippine economy, and the government has even established an agency, the Philippine Overseas employment Administration, to oversee recruitment practices.

Healthcare is a prestigious industry to work in, nursing is very popular, and we have a shortage in the US. I’ve known a former physician from the Philippines who transitioned to a nursing career in the US, so I’m not surprised to read about the following two individuals, one who was exceptional student growing up and strong-armed by her parents to go into the field, and another who started out as an engineer.

Two Profiles

These two stories involve first-generation Filipino immigrants, although it should be noted that Filipinos have settled in the US since more than a decade before the birth of the nation (i.e., the “Manilamen” of Saint Malo, Luisiana). Many Filipino-American families have lived here for generations.

NPR profiled Quimberly “Kym” Villamer, who manages New York city hospital’s nursing staff. Her experience of being left to live relatives as her parents worked overseas is incredibly familiar from my friends and family in the Filipino community.

Oliver Isleta’s profile in The Mercury News ties into this from the other side, as he supports his wife and son, who still live in Davao, Philippines. He sent them money, visited them once a year, and hoped to bring them to the US one day. Sadly, that dream died with him on September 1.

Earlier statistics did not show the disparity in Asian American deaths due to Covid, but more recent analysis shows deaths mistakenly attributed to other causes skewed those numbers, according to the Marshall Project. Now it’s becoming clear that Asian Americans share disproportionate impact from the novel coronavirus, along with Black, Latino, and Native Americans.

According to Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, Filipino nurses are more likely to work in Intensive-Care Units and Emergency Departments, high-risk roles that put them at greater risk of exposure COVID-19. Nationally, Filipino nurses are the largest non-white group in the profession to die of Covid.

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