Experiences of Home Health Care Workers in New York City during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic: A Qualitative Analysis

Madeline R. Sterling, Emily Tseng, Anthony Poon, Jacklyn Cho, Ariel C. Avgar, Lisa M. Kern, Claire K. Ankuda, Nicola Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Importance: Home health care workers care for community-dwelling adults and play an important role in supporting patients with confirmed and suspected coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) who remain at home. These workers are mostly middle-aged women and racial/ethnic minorities who typically earn low wages. Despite being integral to patient care, these workers are often neglected by the medical community and society at large; thus, developing a health care system capable of addressing the COVID-19 crisis and future pandemics requires a better understanding of the experiences of home health care workers. Objective: To understand the experiences of home health care workers caring for patients in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design, Setting, and Participants: From March to April 2020, a qualitative study with 1-to-1 semistructured interviews of 33 home health care workers in New York City was conducted in partnership with the 1199SEIU Home Care Industry Education Fund, a benefit fund of the 1199 Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers East, the largest health care union in the US. Purposeful sampling was used to identify and recruit home health care workers. Main Outcomes and Measures: Audio-recorded interviews were professionally transcribed and analyzed using grounded theory. Major themes and subthemes were identified. Results: In total, 33 home health care workers employed by 24 unique home care agencies across the 5 boroughs of New York City participated. Participants had a mean (SD) age of 47.6 (14.0) years, 32 (97%) were women, 21 (64%) were Black participants, and 6 (18%) were Hispanic participants. Five major themes emerged: home health care workers (1) were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic but felt invisible; (2) reported a heightened risk for virus transmission; (3) received varying amounts of information, supplies, and training from their home care agencies; (4) relied on nonagency alternatives for support, including information and supplies; and (5) were forced to make difficult trade-offs in their work and personal lives. Conclusions and Relevance: In this qualitative analysis, home health care workers reported providing frontline essential care, often at personal risk, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They experienced challenges that exacerbated the inequities they face as a marginalized workforce. Interventions and policies to better support these frontline health care professionals are urgently needed..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1453-1459
Number of pages7
JournalJAMA Internal Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


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