As the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 has passed 70,000 as this is being written, and North Carolinians consider what the coming months will look like, it’s more important than ever to reflect on what we have learned and what still needs to be done.
I am a practicing hospitalist. I’ve treated patients with coronavirus and seen my fellow frontline workers across disciplines and backgrounds step up to the challenge. This also reminded me that I was given the opportunity to immigrate to the United States from Nepal more than 10 years ago through the diversity visa program.
My wife and I were selected to come to the U.S. in 2008, and I did my medicine residency in Pennsylvania. Since 2014, I’ve been working as an in-patient hospital physician in Ohio and now in North Carolina.
Health care providers like myself are duty-bound to provide equal care to all our patients, whether they are poor or rich, insured or uninsured, brown or black, born in the U.S., or elsewhere.
I think that sense of duty comes from the makeup of the health care field itself. Seventeen percent of the country’s health care workforce is foreign-born like me. They constitute 24% of direct-care workers such as nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, along with 28% of highly skilled professionals such as physicians and surgeons. Even more are the children of first-generation immigrants who sacrificed much so their children could pursue a career in medicine.
While it is true we in North Carolina haven’t been hit as hard by the novel coronavirus as other states, the threat to our families and neighbors is the same. I’ve spent long shifts in the hospital as patients come in with shortness of breath and other telltale signs of the virus. I’ve treated them as best as I can alongside my medical staff and allied health care workers. I’ve talked with family members, easing their concerns and making them aware of the risks. And I’ve seen my colleagues — from all corners of the world — do the same right here in the High Point and Greensboro area. In this very real way, North Carolina’s tradition of welcome is keeping us healthy today.
As this crisis develops, immigrants and citizens are standing shoulder to shoulder, and all of our contributions to the economy and society are even more indispensable.
Already, these contributions are being increasingly recognized. Recently, a diverse group of organizations from across the political spectrum — including businesses like Postmates, faith organizations like Church World Service and advocacy groups like the National Immigration Forum and the Libre Initiative — launched the #AllOfUs campaign.
Through a series of advertisements running nationwide, the group is making the positive case that all Americans, citizens and immigrants alike, are contributing to the COVID-19 response and recovery.
And let me be clear: It is not just health care workers who are indispensable; the pandemic has shown us how essential those we used to consider “low-skilled” are. My hospital could not provide the quality care it does without the cleaning staff members who keep our facilities clean and hygienic, delivery people who bring us critical supplies, and the caterers and immigrant food workers who keep us and our patients fed.
And in a time of a pandemic, I am reminded of what matters: that all of us deserve to be treated equally, whether in health care, before the law or by each other. We have enough to fear; we don’t need to fear each other.
COVID-19, meanwhile, does not discriminate. It does not care what we have or don’t have, where we come from or how long we’ve been here. It only exploits our vulnerabilities as human beings.
To beat COVID-19, we have to work together and realize the promise of America for both the native-born and foreign-born.
Dr. Kuber Ghimire lives in High Point and works at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro.