The Price to Pay for Women Working in Healthcare

Healthcare has always been, and always will be, an ever-changing field full of challenges. I am currently employed at a not-for-profit nursing home as a counselor and have witnessed the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on our residents and staff. Nursing homes are often thought of as depressing institutions full of abuse and neglect. From my personal experience working in two different facilities, I can confidently say a vast majority of staff care deeply for their patients. A vast majority also happen to be women.

Out of about 100 staff members, 80 are women. Nurses and CNAs are overworked and underpaid to an extent that many lose patience and become discouraged with their caseload. Without a doubt, the reputation of nursing homes stems from conditions caused by misogyny, ageism, capitalism, and ableism. The important role of women as caretakers is taken for granted, as well as the need for those they serve.

The current nursing home I work for was one of the first in the state of West Virginia to experience COVID-19. No one knew how to effectively prepare as little was known about the virus. Eventually, over 50 staff and residents became infected with COVID-19 and it took a very long time with diligent efforts to eradicate it in our facility.

The first facility I worked for offered no hazard pay for their workers. CNAs continued to only make $11 an hour for the grueling work they put in every day. Housekeepers made the minimum wage; $8.75 an hour. A facility full of exhausted, frustrated staff effected the wellbeing of residents who already struggled with being in quarantine. On the other hand, the one I currently work for provided an extra $5 on the hour. CNA’s typically making $12 an hour were now making $17 an hour. Housekeepers typically making $11 were making $16 an hour.

In addition, all staff was compensated with an extra $2 an hour for working nightshift. The workload was remarkably similar with typically 20 patients relying only on one nurse and two aides, at times, only one. However, receiving a fair wage and being shown appreciation made a difference in patient care.

Flash forward a year later, hazard pay has been taken away. Many have quit or walked out since the drop in pay. I am a counselor but was recently asked to administer COVID-19 tests on staff and family visitors due to the significant shortage in nursing staff.

Nursing homes are a prime example of how traditional women’s occupations are underappreciated. The important role of women as caretakers is taken for granted in comparison to roles typical for men. In addition, a vast majority of nursing home residents are women. The issue of women’s needs being neglected extends into old age. If we were always paid a fair wage and given the support we need, perhaps nursing homes would not have the terrible reputations they do.