Remembering Thousands of the World's Healthcare Workers Lost to COVID

Marcia Frellick

August 21, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Just as the global death toll from COVID-19 climbs to staggering new highs, so grows the number of those lost on the front lines trying to help those infected.

Medscape has been compiling a list in memoriam of fallen healthcare workers worldwide with information from friends, colleagues, and families who have shared details about those who have died in the service of patients infected.

As of August 18, the list, while incomplete, included 2012 names, 386 from the United States. The youngest is 21, the eldest, 99.

The list includes workers from 74 countries. The healthcare workers are among the more than 776,000 people worldwide who had died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 tracker.

The names are those of physicians, nurses, first responders, therapists, pharmacists, medical examiners, technicians, staff, and practitioners of all kinds.

The list includes Italian physician Roberto Stella, 67, leader of the medical association in Italy's northern Varese region, who continued to treat patients at the beginning of the pandemic in March even after protective gear ran out.

It includes the deaths of a father, Jorge Vallejo, MD, 89, an obstetrician/gynecologist who died on June 27 in Palmetto, Florida, and his son, Carlos Vallejo, MD, an internist, also in South Florida, a COVID-19 hot spot, who died at age 57 less than 2 months later.

The International Council of Nurses reported in early June that more than 600 nurses worldwide had died of COVID-19.

Also included in the memoriam list are those who may not have died from the disease but from the stress or demands surrounding it, such as Lorna Breen, MD, medical director of an emergency department in Manhattan.

Her family and colleagues described the hopelessness she felt before she took her own life in April at age 49.

One report projected that such "deaths of despair" overall could range from 27,000 to more than 150,000 under nine different scenarios that take into account geography, economic recovery, and joblessness.

Risk to Healthcare Workers

Several stories have relayed the COVID-19 risk to healthcare workers by counting the numbers of persons infected or exposed in certain groups or specialties.

For instance, a study published in the journal Anaesthesia of employees at two London maternity units found that 1 in every 6 frontline maternity healthcare staff had developed COVID-19 antibodies, with one third of the exposed staff showing no symptoms.

A study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania that analyzed data from an earlier version of the Medscape list that contained more than 1000 names found that family physicians appeared to be at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than frontline, hospital-based physicians.

The article was published online July 28 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

It notes that among the physicians who died, the largest group (26.9%) included general practitioner/family medicine/primary care doctors. Physicians in emergency medicine, critical care specialists, and anesthesiologists made up 7.4% of the deaths in this cohort.

Senior author Basavana Goudra, MD, a clinical associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, said in a press release that the lower number of hospital deaths was "likely due to better access to personal protective equipment."

Christopher Friese, PhD, professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, who studies healthcare worker injuries and illnesses, told ProPublica that comprehensive tracking of healthcare worker illnesses and death from COVID-19 is sorely lacking.

"We don't really have a good understanding of where health care workers are at greatest risk. We've had to piece it together. And the fact that we're piecing it together in 2020 is pretty disturbing," he said.

Medscape also reported on a lack of a national repository of reliable or consistent data by state regarding healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.

Medscape asks for your help in keeping this list up to date. Please submit names through this form with as much information as possible, including age, hospital or facility name, profession or specialty, location, and a link to source information. We rely on the links you include to verify each case. Unfortunately, we are unable to include names without confirmation that their death is related to COVID-19.

To all who have submitted the names of colleagues, friends, and family members, Medscape thanks you for helping us memorialize them.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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