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LETTER: Healthcare workers need housing they can afford -- now.

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A healthcare worker, I am writing to you in response to two important April Fauquier Times articles written by Coy Ferrell and Robin Earl regarding the lack of quantity and quality housing in Fauquier, and the Warrenton Comprehensive Plan 2040. As nations have pandemic preparedness plans, this framework applies at the local level, and should include healthcare worker logistics and support. Given current realities, we cannot wait 20 years.

As a Fauquier County native and Virginia Commonwealth University graduate who has been around the world and back, I returned to Virginia after many decades, this time from Europe, having completed graduate school in global health policy.

Choosing my hometown to support my family and community through my field of dentistry, the dental practice is still short-staffed. A key clinician resigned due to her one-hour commute that added insult to injury. This example highlights the 2020/21 trend in dentistry and medicine -- losing many clinicians due to the burnout, exhaustion, health risks and lack of support. Myself a healthcare worker on COVID-support assignment with: #1, no housing or transport stipend;

#2, a month-to-month contract based on public health/patient care needs and #3, impossibility to forecast and commit to the expected 12-month housing lease.

The quantitative context of housing options for healthcare workers:

1. An extended-stay Warrenton hotel : $3,900-plus per month.

2. A few Fauquier Airbnbs: $1,050 (an extra room in a shared house -- infectious disease, anyone?) to $18,000 (yes, 18K) per month.

3. Apartment: $1.3K to 3K per month, with an annual lease

In qualitative terms, the miniscule handful of Warrenton rentals is insulting: dark, damp basements converted into "housing," or old buildings with broken windows and subpar plumbing, emphasized in the April Fauquier Times articles. On an otherwise decent healthcare worker hourly wage, these choices are unjust, overpriced and not sustainable economically. A job, but no housing. None. The $1,800 Airbnb booking runs out, and then what? Commute 30 to 60 minutes from Northern Virginia? I thought I moved to Warrenton.

I think Mr. [Chad] Melton, Fauquier Health CEO would agree, it's not sustainable for a healthcare worker's morale, which is quite bruised these days given SARS CoV2. Not only do we wear PPE and N95 masks (nine hours of carbon dioxide and facial pressure) with a diminished human touch to care delivery, but our healthcare duties alongside an occupational health and safety (OSHA) environment have jumped to a whole new level of exposure and stress-- physically, biomedically, mentally. To add an hour commute on both ends adds yet another layer of exhaustion.

For a healthcare worker to have Fauquier housing insecurity, there is potential for, but not limited to:

1. Compromised patient care due to stress and anxiety on behalf of the clinician

2. Unsustainable employment due to transport and time costs

3. Burnout and subsequent termination altogether

4. Attractive competition from other counties (higher pay plus lower rent/higher quality housing)

5. Increased commuter traffic to and from

The circumstances are telling me to consider leaving this Fauquier County job post, and provide clinical care in a county that strategizes and plans for equitable and available housing -- housing that suits various demographics and socioeconomic circumstances of healthcare workers.

For context regarding Warrenton dentistry: in the case of the aforementioned dental practice, this would leave two full-time positions vacant, with the practice looking at a precarious situation of clinicians commuting in from Northern Virginia, if lucky.

Meanwhile, there are at least three additional Warrenton dental practices looking for full-time registered dental hygienists, that will all have to commute in, increasing traffic into the county.

Note: Northern Virginia has ample and higher-paying employment ops for RDH's, so no incentive to commute.

The Fauquier Times wrote in April about Mr. Melton’s address to the council: "it’s difficult to recruit quality health care providers without a way to show them the town’s intended direction. Not having a comprehensive plan is ‘like going onto the field without a playbook,’ he said, adding that he believed he was speaking for the majority of residents."

The sobering comments of Darryl Neher [of Habitat for Humanity] and Mr. [Renard] Carlos of the Town Council] are much appreciated. If I was here during the springtime council meetings I surely would have attended and shared my perspective. Silent voices are useless, and I hope for future meetings that more cross-community has representation, including their voices in the media publications. The urgent need for housing is at our doorstep, at our patient’s bedsides, and cannot wait 20 years until 2040.

-- Amy Pittelkau

Warrenton

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