The Cost of Trying to Help

How many patient-contact hours have been lost due to COVID-19 deaths of health care professionals?

How many patient-contact hours have been lost due to COVID-19 deaths of health care professionals?

• Topics: USA / Global, People, Health,

The Guardian has reported that 210 U.S. nurses died of COVID-19 from March 1st, 2020 to February 28th, 2021. Their age at death was available for 208 of them. Using a current U.S. Life Table, I estimate that these 208 nurses lost approximately 7,460 person-years of life. If, on average, the working life of a nurse is 80% of their remaining life, these 7,460 person-years translate into 5,968 lost working years.

What is the effect of these lost working years on patients? If a nurse has six patient-contact hours per day and works 248 days of the year, then the annual patient-contact hours would be 1,444.  By multiplying 1,444 by the 5,968 nurse-working years lost, we can estimate the number of patient-contact hours lost; it is 8,617,792. Given this, approximately 8.62 million contact hours were lost to patients because of these 208 nurses’ deaths.

It is clear that many patients will bear the consequences of these 208 deaths. Now, think about how many more nurses were not on the Guardian’s list and add the other medical professionals who have direct contact with patients and also contracted and died of COVID-19 while trying to treat it. It adds up to a lot of lost patient-contact hours due to COVID-19 deaths inflicted on people who were trying to help.

For those not familiar with the concept of person-years of life, consider 100,000 people aged 15 for whom a life table shows that they are expected to live to age 80, on average, giving each of them 65 years of remaining life. For the 100,000 as a whole, they have 650,000 person-years of life remaining. If they all died today, then this cohort of 100,000 would experience 650,000 person-years of life lost.

Applying this concept to the age at death of the 208 nurses in conjunction with a current U.S. life table, I created Table 1, which shows, for example, that a person aged 25 is expected to live 58.21 years. Multiplying 58.21 by the 11 COVID-19 deaths to 25 year old nurses, (the approximate average of those aged 20-29 when they died,) yields 640 person-years of life lost for that age group. Applying this same approach to the other age groups and summing the results by age yields an estimated 7,460 years of life lost to these nurses. If we assume that 80 percent of these years would be working years, then there were 5,968 working-nurse years lost.

About David A. Swanson

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2020

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Dec 13, 2021


I expect that this death toll only a portion of the “loss” story.  Losses from nurses just simply leaving the profession or sick time taken.  How many MDs have been lost?  What is the replacement cost?  What is in the pipeline?  And what quality of service might we see from those who dog it out but suffer PTS or other long-term medical effects of having seen and done what they saw and did?

And what of worldwide? 

And so the numbers become staggering, no?



Jon Humphrey

Dec 13, 2021

Thanks for this article David. Both my mom and Dad are nurses. My dad finally retired a couple of years ago after almost 40 years working, including as a medic, and more, in Desert Storm. My mom continues to work even though she’s in her 70s. We worry about this sad statistic often.

However, we are in the midst of the “great resignation.” As an aside, why do we call everythign that is awful great? The Great Depression, the Great War, the Great Resignation, the Great Konto Earthquake? I’ll stop there.

So I wonder what the numbers for this same issue are with teachers and doctors. Both of which there is a critical shortage of. As an aside, I tried to get fingerprinted so I could start teaching and found out that both BPD and the Whatcom County Sheriff are still not providing this service, with one exception, concealed carry permits. Talk about a lack of priorities. I found an amazing guy up in Blaine that does it privately, but my God man. Lynden PD is still doing it, but because BPD and the Sheriffi’s office are not they’re booked about 3 weeks out.

I love articles that use solid numbers btw. Thanks for that.


David A. Swanson

Dec 19, 2021

Unvaccinated and seldom, if ever-masked, State Senator Doug Erickson “died with his rights on” from COVID-19 on December 17th. As was the case with the “Boot Hill” cemetery founded in the silver boom days of Pioche, Nevada, where 72 men were buried with their boots on before anybody died of natural causes, there appears to be a sufficient number of public figures, who like Ericksen, died on the “unvaccinated and seldom, if ever-masked” trail, such that a “Rights Hill” cemetery could be founded for them at the end of that trail: The Mar-a-Lago Boom Town. But maybe it already has in the form of the “Hall of Cain,” the posthumous virtual underworld where “unvaccinated and seldom if ever-masked” public figures who have died of COVID-19 are recognized.



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