Research highlights racialization of long-term care workers

COVID-19 pandemic woman wearing mask

Research that investigates timely issues around gender, race, labour and social determinants of health that are key to understanding the impact of COVID-19 in long-term care homes has been published in the top-ranked journal Social Science & Medicine.

Authored by Iffath Syed, an instructor with York University’s School of Health Policy and Management, in the Faculty of Health, and graduate of York’s doctoral program in Health Policy and Equity, the study focuses on racialization and long-term care workers.

The study, based on her dissertation research, aims to contribute to the understanding of racism and racialization in long-term care homes by analyzing those with lived experience in that line of work.

Racism, racialization, and health equity in Canadian residential long term care: A case study in Toronto” documents how particular social determinants of health, such as race and racialization, can manifest themselves in the lives of workers. Drawing on critical race theory and feminist political economy, this study examines the ways in which the participants discuss their experiences of care work, with closer attention to racism and racialization.

The study aims to contribute to the understanding of racism and racialization in long-term care homes by analyzing those with lived experience in that line of work

This work is derived from a broader research project consisting of a single-case study of a long-term care home in Ontario, Canada. Syed conducted 42 in-depth interviews with participants, and collected information on: who carries out executive and management roles; who carries out front-line care work; and determining the differences in these roles and responsibilities.

Through this pursuit, Syed found differences in working conditions among various types of workers “which reflect not only a neoliberal market model of care, but also speak to colonial practices of oppression, exclusion and subordination.”

Racialized workers were over-represented in front-line care work, and were represented in a limited capacity in managerial roles.

Syed’s study raises several important points, including:

  • the corroboration of previous literature suggesting racism and racialization are real phenomena in this context;
  • evidence that care work is organized in hierarchical ways that demonstrate how differences in racialized status can manifest in differences in power, incomes, social status and roles in care work; and
  • the support of literature that suggests the context of the labour force, its structures and the political systems encompassing these things can limit the power of women and racialized people who work in long-term care.

“One recommendation would be to carry out additional studies that would investigate the relationship(s) between gender and race on working conditions and health outcomes in racialized communities,” the study reads. “Another recommendation would be to advocate for policies that minimize income inequalities among racialized groups.”

This research, says Syed, would be invaluable in advocating change.