America, Remember to #ThankATrucker #WhenCornavirusIsOver
Dr. Karen Heaton is an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Dr. Mona Shattell is an associate dean at Johns Hopkins University.
During the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, truckers have emerged as unsung heroes bringing food, medications and critical medical supplies and equipment, the elusive mega-rolls of toilet paper, and other commodities to stores across the country. Praised by the President, state governments, and network television news anchors, and other media, the truckers interviewed modestly said things like, “We do this all day, every day”; and “If trucks slow down, America stops”.
It’s true — three million truck drivers in America deliver goods and products every day, twenty-four hours a day and seven days per week. The long-distance drivers are often away from home for weeks at a time-away from family, friends, and the mundane routines of home. We understand the work of truckers. We are academic researchers — occupational and mental health nurses — who have studied the health and stressors of truckers. One of us is the wife of a former trucker.
Findings from our research and others show that truckers are sedentary workers who get very little exercise, have limited food options when they are working, and are at risk for a number of medical conditions such as obesity, sleep apnea and sleep deprivation, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, workplace violence, heart disease and stroke. They also are at risk for motor vehicle crash—no surprise when you consider the number of miles they drive per year, and the many health problems, which are associated with increased crashes.
Despite newsworthy and tragic crashes involving sleep-deprived or otherwise impaired truck drivers, for most crashes involving a semi and a personal vehicle, the personal vehicle driver (the “four-wheeler” is at fault). Not only do the truckers have higher risks for serious traumatic injuries, only about half of them have health insurance. Studies of truck drivers have shown that those who do have health insurance do not use it for routine preventive care or sick visits because they “do not have time” when they are off work to do so.
In the best of times, long-haul trucking is a difficult and relatively (if you count by the hour) low-paying job. And now, it’s even worse. Truckers get paid “when the wheels are rolling”; not for anything else. And as the pandemic continues and ports close, trucking work may be on the decline.
And now, time on the road is even harder for truckers. They are having difficulty accessing food and shower facilities because of decreased services at truck stops and restaurant closures—they can’t just drive their semis through fast food drive-throughs and because of the necessary social distancing interventions advocated by the Centers for Disease Control.
The public has taken notice. Everyday Americans are making efforts to assist these truckers. Police officers in different parts of the country are bringing them food; citizens are offering access to parking, home-cooked meals, and hot showers in their private homes; and kids are using their allowances to buy truckers snacks and drinks. These are all wonderful, sincere expressions of gratitude and we applaud the kindness of people who have been so generous.
As researchers and family members of truckers, we have known all along the struggles and challenges of life on the road. We have heard from truckers, how often they have felt disrespected and invisible in everyday society. But you know, truckers have been out there for years; and they will continue to be out there long after, #WhenCoronavirusIsOver. Let’s hold on to this appreciation and generosity for truckers and all that they do for the rest of us.
Karen Heaton, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN, FAAOHN
University of Alabama at Birmingham
1701 University Blvd.
Birmingham, AL 35295
Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN
Associate Dean for Faculty Development
Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
525 N. Wolfe St.
Baltimore, MD 21205
Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN is Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Isabel Hampton Robb Distinguished Scholar in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore. She also holds a joint appointment in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. She is the Editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, and the author of more than 130 journal articles and book chapters. She is an active social media user, content developer, and public thought leader. She has published op-eds in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Health Affairs Blog, Huffington Post, PBS, and others.
Karen Heaton, PhD, COHN-S, FNP-BC, FAAN, FAAOHN is an Associate Professor and director of the PhD and Occupational Health Nursing programs in the School of Nursing and Deep South Center for Occupational Health and Safety, respectively. She is actively involved in research related to the health and health care access of truck drivers.