Nurses who live with aging parents, and doctors whose spouses suffer from conditions like asthma or diabetes, are just some of the health care workers who face excruciating dilemmas as the Commonwealth responds to the COVID-19 outbreak. On the front lines of this medical emergency, they’re at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus as they work long hours caring for sick patients — and their loved ones can be at especially high risk of death if the disease enters their homes.
What many health care workers want, and deserve, is a temporary place to live near their workplaces so that they can keep fighting the pandemic without putting their families in needless danger. Hotels, Airbnb hosts, college dorms, and the state’s two now-idled casinos have thousands of beds that are going unused, and they have an opportunity to serve a greater common cause by making that space available for doctors and nurses without charge.
A few of them have already stepped up. Tufts University, for instance, is making 1,600 beds available for local providers, according to university spokesman Patrick Collins. According to Airbnb, 850 hosts in Massachusetts have signed up for its global program to provide beds for health care workers; the company waived its fees and says most of its hosts made those rooms available for free. Some hotels have offered steep discounts, and a group of hotels in Boston has made rooms available to workers at Partners HealthCare facilities for just a nominal cleaning fee. The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said in a statement that it had been in contact with about 100 lodging establishments that “have expressed willingness to house caregivers."
But Julie Pinkham, the executive director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the response has been inconsistent across the state, naming Western Massachusetts as a particular area of concern, and said that while some colleges and hotels have expressed openness to housing workers, it’s not translating into beds fast enough. “It’s painfully slow to move from what we need to do, to doing it,” she said. Without help, nurses with at-risk family members have been forced to improvise their own housing solutions. “We’ve had some folks move out and move in with someone else, or the family member has moved out [of the home]. There is no way you can come home. You can be careful as you want to be, but there’s too much risk involved.”
Additionally, some medical staff have had to put themselves into isolation — which some of them would rather not do at home.
This is a time that calls for all of us to tap into our deepest stores of generosity, and that includes university and business leaders who can help these health care workers.
Two institutions that are uniquely positioned to step up are the resort casinos in Springfield and Everett, which have shut their doors but are both located near health care facilities. MGM Springfield didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Globe; a spokesman for Wynn Resorts, which owns Encore, noted the company had donated 50,000 medical masks to the state, including 4,000 much-needed N95 masks, but didn’t say directly whether the company would provide rooms.
The state can also do more. The Baker administration recently unveiled a portal for residents to donate medical supplies, and it could be expanded to accept donations of Airbnb rooms or hotel space. (Or financial contributions earmarked for health care workers’ housing.) Another suggestion, from Pinkham: The state or city government should name a single point-of-contact for emergency housing so that there’s someone who can match empty dorms and hotel rooms to workers who need them.
It’s not just nurses and doctors who need housing, points out Dr. Maryanne Bombaugh, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. The state is recruiting volunteers to help respond to the outbreak, and they may need places to stay. “It’s important that as volunteers are mobilized and are coming into communities, that the communities open their arms in regard to housing, should that be needed,” she said. “It will be critically important."
Activists in Boston planned a citywide round of applause for health care workers at 7 p.m. on Friday April 3, using the social media hashtag #ClapBecauseWeCare. From the lack of protective equipment to pay cuts, doctors, nurses, technicians, and other workers face staggering challenges and deserve our expressions of gratitude. But it would be even better if our community could come together to offer those workers, and the volunteers joining them, a safe place to spend the night before heading back to the front lines.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.