The total loss of healthcare workers to COVID-19 unknown in Arizona

Posted at 9:58 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 01:35:49-04

PHOENIX — Pamila Masih was a nurse at Valleywise Health who was known by her colleagues as the ‘vein whisperer,’ as they say she could find a person’s veins that seemed invisible.

Chante Neal, a nurse at Valleywise Health, has worked with Masih for more than a decade, learning from the woman known as a mentor to young nurses like herself.

Masih worked at Valleywise for 31 years, much of the time she spent as an oncology nurse and had the biggest heart for cancer patients.

“She was always our mama,” said Neal. “I just remember calling her when I was a new grad, like 'hey, I don’t know how to do this.' and she’s like, 'I’m going to show you one time mama,' you know and she’d make sure she made me do it that second time,” said Neal.

Known as frontline heroes throughout this pandemic, Masih is just one story that has been shared publicly, but the total loss of healthcare workers is unknown in Arizona as there is no known list of those who have died.

A spokesperson for Arizona’s Department of Health Services tells ABC15 that state health officials do not track the number of COVID-19 deaths by healthcare workers, so they could not provide any information.

However, at Valleywise Health, Masih isn’t the only one who has died of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

This past Spring, hospital officials found a way to honor four of their staff members with a memorial in their Healing Garden.

Brenda Cancinos | Laboratory | Years of Service: 2005-2021

Lizabeth Merkley, RN | Behavioral Health | Years of service: 2010-2020

Montserrat Padilla | Patient Access Center | Years of Service: 2019-2021

Pamila Masih, RN | Medicine and Oncology | Years of Service: 1990-2021

Officials with the hospital say the women did not contract COVID-19 at work, but did not indicate where the women did contract the virus that would ultimately take their lives.

Finding the number of healthcare workers who have died across the U.S. is also hard to find as there is no official entity tracking the numbers in real time.

Earlier this year, Kaiser Health News and The Guardian found in the first year of the pandemic at least 3,600 healthcare workers died of COVID-19.

The information shared by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian took a year to compile the data. As part of the interactive map by the two organizations, they found at least 54 healthcare workers had died as of April in Arizona.

Since the release of the story in April, it appears there is not new information on who has died.

According to Kaiser Health News and The Guardian, some of the key findings included:

  • More than half of those who died were younger than 60. In the general population, the median age of death from COVID-19 is 78. Yet among health care workers in the database, it is only 59.
  • More than a third of the health care workers who died were born outside the United States. Those from the Philippines accounted for a disproportionate number of deaths.
  • Nurses and support staff members died in far higher numbers than physicians.
  • Twice as many workers died in nursing homes as in hospitals. Only 30% of deaths were among hospital workers, and relatively few were employed by well-funded academic medical centers. The rest worked in less prestigious residential facilities, outpatient clinics, hospices and prisons, among other places.

Meanwhile, here in Arizona, ABC15 reached out to several of the largest hospital networks about COVID-19 deaths within their organization, but none of them would share how many of their healthcare workers or staff have died from the virus.

ABC15 did not receive a response by Dignity Health officials. Banner officials say the number is low and for privacy reasons they cannot disclose further details. Officials with Honor Health tell ABC15 that they will decline our inquiry and Abrazo officials say they don’t have that information, and they are not aware of any memorials.