The past six months have been surreal. After COVID-19 began to spread across the United States, I spent March and April deploying protocols and training our emergency care team to combat the spread of the virus. I juggled this with examining patients who came to our clinics with acute illnesses, some of which were life-threatening illnesses that ultimately required hospitalization.
I thought I was an essential worker and was willing to risk my life to administer the care that I had spent years providing. But it turns out that my work was also threatened. In appreciation for my service, I received leave in April and a pink slip in June.
Getting rid of protected areas while we are facing a pandemic is like firing firefighters when the forests are on fire.
As a senior medical assistant for an emergency care service, I never thought my work would be dispensable during a global health disaster. Getting rid of PAs when we face a pandemic is like firing firefighters when forests are on fire. But I am hardly alone. As healthcare workers are publicly celebrated for their heroism, behind the scenes thousands are being kicked out.
Nearly 1.5 million healthcare workers lost their jobs in a single month this spring. Some positions have started to reopen, but far from all. The fact that healthcare jobs are increasingly falling victim to COVID-19 may seem absurd and unfair, but that doesn’t make sense given the financial fragility – and concentration – of the system. Profits are a major driver of employment decisions, even in an industry that claims to prioritize community health. When the number of patient visits declined, it was healthcare workers who also saw their wages, benefits and hours cut.
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Since I was part of the management team of an emergency care department, I know firsthand how we have struggled to keep abreast of the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines from health authorities. . As a team, we have led our service through unprecedented uncertainty and managed the growing anxiety of our patients and their families. We planned to work through this.
But soon, patients who had appointments for routine care and illness were postponed, and the volume of patients in ambulatory care settings like mine dropped dramatically. The patients were afraid, as were the health facilities. Patients with coronavirus-like symptoms were asked to go home and quarantine. Their other health care needs were temporarily shelved due to fear of catching or spreading this new virus, while COVID-19 tests were limited for weeks due to a lack of supplies. So as other healthcare workers walked into their hospitals to grateful applause, I was quietly fired.
I have 12 years of experience as a Palestinian Authority, mainly in emergency and emergency care facilities. But one day last month, I walked out of my office with a box full of well-worn medical textbooks and an inactive stethoscope. Many others face the same fate. According to a new study from the American Academy of PAs, almost 9% of PAs nationwide are currently on leave. And PAs are not alone; many physicians, dentists and other clinicians are also facing this new reality.
One of the ironies of this is that physician assistants learn to be flexible, change responsibilities quickly, and respond to unforeseen needs. PAs are trained as generalists and can practice in different specialties and contexts as needed. We diagnose the disease, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medication, and are often the patient’s primary health care provider. We are trained to collaborate and work as a team alongside doctors and nurses.
Like all healthcare providers, PAs have responded to the COVID-19 crisis despite the lack of adequate personal protective equipment and other resources when it emerged. They found themselves working in other departments and specialties. When I was still employed, I volunteered to be on a rescue list for the local emergency service, although I was never called.
But our versatility – perfectly suited to a time of crisis – was not enough to save many of our jobs. Instead, it often seems that the ability of the healthcare industry to pivot PAs to where we need them most is thwarted by tough laws and regulations that mean we have fewer opportunities. under the best circumstances, and create a domino effect when the economy hits its bottom. While some states have removed the barriers, others require that each PA have a specific relationship with a doctor in order to practice medicine, even if PAs have their own licenses to practice and write prescriptions.
This moment of dramatic change and need shows that these restrictions are unnecessary. Several states have removed this requirement during their states of emergency, a simple change that allowed patients to receive essential care in a timely manner. More states should follow their example.
The fact that healthcare jobs are increasingly falling victim to COVID-19 may seem absurd and unfair, but that doesn’t make sense given the financial fragility – and concentration – of the system.
Even when there is no crisis, being tied to a specific physician means PAs cannot meet the vital need to provide care to underserved patients in urban and rural communities because, by definition, they do not. don’t have these doctors. But now more than ever, we need to improve access to care by removing barriers to the practice of PA so that we can treat these communities, especially communities of color who have higher rates of COVID infections- 19.
Being laid off left me betrayed – not only by my department, but by the entire health care system. I hope that as a country we can come together to support and strengthen this system. Simple, cost-effective solutions that help employ more AP are among them. My job should not be threatened every time a health crisis strikes. This is where we need it most, me and the other PAs.