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On the corona frontline – the experiences of care workers in Finland and elsewhere in Europe

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health care was a bigger priority than elderly care and care workers. Because of this, especially care homes suffered from outbreaks of the coronavirus in Finland. This is what Sari Bäcklund-Kajanmaa, JHL’s special advisor, states in her report for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

The German Friedrich Ebert foundation has published a series of reports on the effects of the coronavirus on elderly care and care workers. Altogether nine European countries, including Finland, have conducted a report.

Sari Bäcklund-Kajanmaa, the author of On the Corona Frontline: The Experiences of Care Workers in Finland, writes in her report that services for the elderly were not prioritised as much as health care in the early stages of the pandemic in Finland. The protective equipment and guidelines given to workers to prevent the spread of the disease were insufficient. While work itself was already demanding, employees felt that increased haste added to their workload along with the fear of becoming ill or of a loved one becoming ill.  Insufficient occupational safety measures were taken: Especially at the beginning there were mixed guidelines and problems with access to protective equipment and the quality of the equipment. When the pandemic struck, occupational safety and health co-operation personnel, particularly employees’ occupational safety and health representatives, were not included in the planning of coronavirus measures at workplaces.

According to Bäcklund-Kajanmaa’s report, attention must be paid to social services and health care personnel’s ability to cope at work, especially during exceptional conditions, if the aim is to keep them at work even in the future.

From the spring of 2020, social services and health care resources focused on coronavirus response, for natural reasons. Consequently, there was not as much focus on other areas of social services and health care, according to the report. For this reason, there is a significant backlog in care services. It may take a long time to shorten the health care waiting lists.

– If we face this kind of situation again in the future, the country will be considerably better prepared…. Hopefully, another lesson of the pandemic is that social services and health care personnel are an especially valuable resource that must be invested in also during normal times, Bäcklund-Kajanmaa writes in her report.

In public speeches, the pandemic resulted in a growing appreciation of nurses and care personnel. However, this appreciation has not extended to their salaries. Apart from a few local exceptions, nurses in Finland have not been paid a special coronavirus increase, Bäcklund-Kajanmaa states. JHL has demanded that all professional groups who are at risk of contracting the virus at work, nurses included, receive a pay raise. For example, work in the cleaning industry has increased significantly as cleaning standards have increased everywhere. The professionals working in early childhood education and care, those working in public transit, public safety officials and others who cannot carry out their work remotely and who are continuously in contact with other people as part of their job have also been worried about their health.