Science and Tech


Filipino Community Still Mourning Disproportionate Nurse Deaths

Filipinos make up an estimated 4% of U.S. nurses but account for 26% of COVID-related nurse deaths.
Posted at 5:51 PM, May 04, 2021

Without national data, it was hard for the Filipino community to make sense of the number of deaths they were seeing. For the past year, Grace Regullano and a team of volunteers have been meticulously collecting photographs and stories for an online memorial.

"Nurses don't want to be called heroes. They want to have support. They want to have PPE," said Regullano, a volunteer at Kanlungan

"I think the hardest part is really knowing that a lot of your colleagues and your community members are not surviving," said nurse Rosem Morton. 

The union National Nurses United is one of the few organizations tracking the number of nurses' deaths. Filipinos make up an estimated 4% of the nursing population but 26% of nurses' deaths due to COVID-19 and related complications.

"We talk about health disparities for patients. It's very different and scary to talk about the health disparities among our coworkers," said nurse Elena Huang. 

Out of all nurses of color who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., Filipino nurses make up by far the largest share.

"The conversation is only happening among the Filipino community. It wasn't happening among health care workers at large," said Huang.

Behind the statistics are real people. 

"It puts faces on the numbers," said Regullano as she describes the hundreds of faces on the tribute gallery. "We've heard just a lot of gratefulness that their family member's name is memorialized somewhere and that somebody is talking about that sacrifice."

Filipino nurses tend to work in 24/7 in patient care settings with high stress and long work hours, like the ICUs. And because there are a lot of Filipino immigrant nurses, some are less likely to complain or feel like they can't speak up when faced with stressful or dangerous work environments. Nurse Rosem Morton felt like their stories, especially about immigrant nurses, weren't being captured. 

"There are more to it than the statistics, more to it than the jobs. These are migrants who are who have ups and downs … in their lives," said Morton. 

So she took photographs of their work and homes, a snapshot of their lives. But the job can be exhausting.

"We are getting tired again, not just physically, we're getting tired emotionally. And morally," said National Nurses United President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez.

Nurses are still facing a lack of resources like masks. But they push through.

"You can't stop. Because if we stop, there will be no one there for our patients," said Triunfo-Cortez.