Officially a pandemic now, the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak is drastically changing the daily lives of people around the world. However, perhaps no progression will feel the brunt of the virus like the bar and restaurant industry. Hospitality workers face a duel threat to both health and finances.
In this first installment of a five part series, we look at some basic preparations for service industry employees regarding medical care and financial implications amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional information about relief funds can be found here.
Live updates about coronavirus and the industry can be found here.
A Medical Home
We spoke with an expert in healthcare for service and gig industry workers, Eric Dudas, Managing Director New Orleans Musicians Assistance Clinic & Foundation and Chair of the Healthy Hospitality Initiative (HHI).
Dudas began by stressing that establishing care at a primary facility is of the utmost importance right now. It’s crucial to take this step before—not after—one gets ill.
“Establish a medical home so that’s there’s someone to go to,” she explained. “People who are in the industry and already encounter lots of barriers don’t want to wind up overpaying when they do need help.”
Building a relationship with a clinic or doctor is preferable to relying on an Urgent Care or “doc in a box” type option according to the expert. She explained that traditional providers often have superior resources like in-house pharmacies, better access to electronic medical records, and compatibility with many more healthcare plan. She added, “Clinics offer much deeper options and often much more affordable pricing.”
Have a (Healthcare) Plan
Having healthcare coverage before you get ill is key—even when there is no pandemic. While most bars and restaurants do not offer benefits to employees there still are options.
“A lot of people in cash based industries forget that they are eligible for assistance either through ACA or Medicaid,” Dudas noted. “Based on the system in your city, you might even qualify for other subsidies.”
Although, the ACA enrollment window is currently closed, healthcare.gov is still a great starting point to finding a plan. There are a few options to move onto from that launch pad.
“Refer to the Medicaid website which also is very good,” added Dudas. “Reference income eligibilities in your state. If you’re below income thresholds, it protects you from co-pays and medical debt.”
If possible, the HHI recommends visiting an application center (as opposed to applying online.) “It’s good to meet with them in person and talk them about how your pay fluctuates and they can help you out.”
Finally, Dudas suggests doing a little research into local groups. “For example, [in NOLA] we have initiative through 504 Health Net called healthy hospitality—it offers sliding scale fees. Or, certain hospitals have community care quotas that will help reduce costs,” she elaborated.
With shifts getting cut and sales (and tips) declining due to COVID-19, there is a financial element to the pandemic as well.
Dr. Mathew Zingoni, Associate Professor of Management at the University of New Orleans, told Neat Pour that now is the time to stay informed.
“Be knowledgeable,” he advised. “We’re seeing ideas about government subsidies being discussed. Airline subsidies won’t help you, but measures like tax extensions or proposed modifications to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) could be beneficial.”
Zingoni also counseled hospitality workers to be open about medical and financial concerns with management. “Communicate with your boss. Don’t put yourself at risk.”
The Professor conceded that ultimately the crisis will be hard for hospitality workers and basic steps like cutting expenses will likely be necessary. Given the hurdles ahead, he suggested turning to peers to consolidate efforts. “The service industry is known for its strong community. Look out for each other!”
Of course, should you display symptoms of coronavirus, it’s essential to both your own health and that of others to take action.
“Especially in the service industry, you need to remember that you’re at the forefront of public health at times like this,” declared Dudas.
The sentiment was echoed by Zingoni. “If you come in sick, you run the chance to contaminate someone. You’re not an effective bartender and you’re endangering everybody,” he said. “We’ve got to be super diligent so we can still have a recovery and make up for the lost income in a month or so.”
So, if you’re concerned, get tested! But, do it right. “If you think you have coronavirus, call first and make sure that they have the right testing,” advised the health pro. “Refer to the CDC if necessary.”
Ultimately, both Zingoni and Dudas honed in on emotional health as one of the greatest risks. “Find ways to maintain self care at times like this,” Dudas concluded. “Your mental health does make a difference at times like this!”