How COVID-19 has taken a toll on Filipino-American healthcare workers

Healthcare workers have made many sacrifices while serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including losing their lives. 

Among them are women like Daisy Doronila, who died on April 5 after battling COVID-19 for weeks.

A nurse at the Hudson County Correctional Facility for the last 20 years, Doronila was originally born in the Philippines, where she obtained her nursing degree. She lived and worked in Abu Dhabi for five years before migrating to the United States in the 1980s. 

“For my mother it was really a calling for her,” said Denise Rendor, Daisy Dorolina’s daughter. “She was super religious and felt that the way to serve people, she wanted to take care of people that no-one wanted to take care of, the incarcerated, the marginalized, the vulnerable people.”

However, on March 14, Dorolina began exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. Two days later, she began having trouble breathing and went to urgent care. From there, she was sent immediately to the hospital. Soon afterward, she was moved to the intensive care unit and was intubated. She tested positive for COVID-19 three days later.

“I was the last person she called,” Rendor said. “And she let me know don’t worry, I'm in the right place I need to be, I know exactly where I'm going.”

Dorolina is not the only Filipino nurse who has lost her life during this pandemic. 

“The reason why Filipino-Americans are so impacted by COVID-19 is because there is a significant number of Filipino-Americans who are in the healthcare system, particularly working as doctors and nurses,” said Kevin Nadal, Professor of Psychology at the University of New York.

According to Dr. Leo-Felix Jurado of the Philippine Nurses Association of America, the association is in the middle of collecting data on Filipino healthcare workers killed by COVID-19. So far, it has documented at least 31 deaths, but says that number will be much higher once a full count can be made.

Out of the 4 million registered nurses in the United States, four percent, or 160,00 are Filipino. 

“Most of these nurses are found in five states particularly,” said Dr. Jurado. “Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey and Texas.”

According to Dr. Jurado, the majority of Filipino nurses are likely to work at people’s bedside, in acute and critical care.

“As a result of that,” he says, “we have seen more impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to our nurses. Many of our nurses have contracted the virus, [and] many of our nurses have resulted in fatalities,” said Jurado.

The history of Flipino nurses in the United States goes back to colonialism. But it was after World War II when the migration of Filipino nurses to the U.S. started. Dr. Jurado says every time there has been a shortage of nurses here, the U.S. recruits in the Philippines.

“Many, many of us were recruited from the Philippines because of the shortage with the HIV epidemic.” said Dr. Jurado.

This pandemic is no different. Daisy Doronila is an example. She went to work everyday until she just couldn’t anymore.

“I’m so proud of my mother for saving so many lives in her career, and even to her final day, I know the last person she saved was me from getting this virus, and I will truly miss her,” Rendor said.

Doronila’s remains will be taken to Manila once it is safe for Rendor to travel.

Dr. Jurado says most of the Filipino healthcare deaths have been in New York and New Jersey. He hopes these heroes’ sacrifices brings awareness and recognition to a community who have been part of our healthcare system for decades.


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