Filipino American nurses are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19

Only 4% of nurses in the U.S. are of Filipino descent, yet they make up a third of COVID-19 nurse deaths. “Nightline” speaks to families impacted by the virus and explores why the disparity exists.
9:51 | 11/18/20

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Transcript for Filipino American nurses are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19
She actually did come down with covid. Reporter: Eight months into thndemic -- Hey! Reporter: California is the second state to hit 1 million covid cases. Pockets of L.A. Once again in for aqualina soriana versosa, the stakes have never been hired. We had one couple, 16 people living in a house, one couple came down positive so then it started to expose the whole house. Reporter: She heads-up the filipino worker center, and right now she says she's not just delivering food, she's saving lives. This pandemic has really shone a light on the inequities that exist in our community. Thank you so much. Even before the pandemic, a lot of our community was already in crisis, dealing with poverty, dealing with crowded housing conditions, bad working conditions. Reporter: In the hf L.A., in what's known as filipino town, this group is a lifeline to the community here as covid-19 cases continue to climb. In California, 1 in every 5 nurses is filipino descent. Nationally, 4% of registered nurses are filipino-american. But account for nearly one-third of the covid deaths, the largest non-white ethnic group amongst nurses to die of covid-19. When a wave of covid hit Florida this summer, 32-year-old nurse raya mora found herself fighting in the thick of the battle. What do you think so many of your fellow nurses in the hospital are Philippine foes? I think because it's part of our culture. We love caring. Reporter: It wasn't long before the mother of two was diagnosed with covid-19. Four days later, her husband Joe also tested positive. Reya recovered but Joe took a turn for the worse. Placed on a ventilator. What was it like being in the hospital, knowing your husband was somewhere as a patient, and hearing the code blues go off? A lot of my patients, most of them went to icu then later on died. So I was really scared. Joe, I know this in many ways was the battle of your life. What memories do you have of that battle? I didn't want to sleep. I was scared that in I closed my eyes, I wouldn't have strength that I needed to continue breathing. Reporter: After a grueling nearly month-long battle with the virus, Joe was finally able to return home. What was that first kiss like for you, when you get reunited? It was the best reunion. My first kiss after 24 days. I realized how important my family is and how much should I spend time with my family? I understand that a lot of your nurses were also filipinos? Yes, that's true. Really during that time I relied on the machines that kept my organs going, and the nurses that kept giving me care throughout the day and night. Reporter: It's not a coincidence there are so many filipino-americans in nursing. It's a legacy that can be traced back through American history. The Philippines was one of the very few countries the U.S. Ever colonized. George dewy, hero of Manila bay, whose victory over the Spanish fleet in 1898 won the Philippine islands for the United States. One of the things the united States wanted to do was to sort of create a cheap aglofone accessible and mobile labor force in their new colony, to train them in specific voections that were not necessarily useful to filipinos in the Philippines, but were useful to Americans, and specifically the U.S. Military. Reporter: Professor Adrian de Leon, who studies filipino-american history at usc, says America tapped into this cheap labor pipeline in the '60s when the U.S. Suffered a nursing shortage. Filipino nurses were rec and brought to the mainland. Over 150,000 filipino nurses have since migrated to the U.S. There's a thing called "Death from within." It translates to "Debt coming from a good conscience." Which is debt you have that you want to repay, family or someone who cared for you, to make sure they're cared back in turn. Reporter: Now, filipino health care workers disproportionately caught in the crosshairs of a raging pandemic. Praised as heroes but thrust onto the front lines of a deadly battle. Among them, Irwin lembrento. He was a doctor in the Philippines. After falling in love with Aurora, his college sweetheart, a respiratory therapist herself, he emigrated to the U.S. Following her and his love of medicine. Dad was very hard working. He came here and worked his way up to have a good life with us here. What do you think made him a good husband? And a good father? I mean, I couldn't ask for whatever you needed, I mean, he would try to give it to you. Kind of like -- I don't have to beg him to get me this or get me that, do this or do that. Fair to say he was the love of your life? Of course, yeah, uh-huh. Reporter: His other love? He truly loved being an E.R. For more than 20 years. But elmhurst hospital in queens, his hospital, overnight became known as the epicenter of the epepicente He was still going to work. We were telling him, why don't you take a break, take a vacation or something? He said, no, are you kidding me? I have a lot of co-workers who are quarantined right now, and they have covid, so he really had to go. He felt a sense of duty? Yeah. "No, I can't do that." That's what he said. Reporter: Edward benija is an emt, a first responder who says Irwin was the one everyone looked up to in the E.R. But he was also the life of the party. He actually was known to be the deejay of elmhurst. He always logged into his music accounts. He would always play music. That was his thing. No one would touch that. You would were the Batman and robin of the E.R.? Correct. He would be the first person that patient sees besides me. When you saw him heading towards your patient what went through your mind? What better person for this patient to receive care from. He's always going to treat the patient the same way he treats everyone, with compassion. Reporter: Like so many filipino-americans, Irwin's home was intergenerational. Living with his grown kids and their grandparents. Covid came. And he realized that there were lot of covid patients already. So he decided there and then to bring his parents to New Jersey where his sister lives. He saved their lives? I would say that, yeah. Yeah. That's how his mother is really very, very -- she couldn't take it. That was the last time they spoke to him. That was it. Reporter: At the end of March, as cases peaked in new York, Irwin came down with a fever. His family had to beg him to go to the hospital. So you took care of him? Yeah, I bring him food. He said, I think my oxygen level is very low. Which was 90. And I said, that's not normal. I told him, can you go to the hospital now? No, I'm okay, I'm okay. Reporter: Within a month, he was gone. I say, why? Why did you leave me? Something like that, like -- I wasn't really prepared for this. Because he -- I mean -- I mean, to be honest, I depended on him on almost everything. How big a hole has this left in your world? Oh my god. What a hole. It's -- it's a big hole. I don't know. I'm still picking up the pieces. Reporter: His colleagues, those frontline workers, paying their respects with lights and sirens. And they were all in front of the hospital. It's like -- they said it's like -- Like a 21-gun salute, they called it. Yeah. And I saw it on the news in the Philippines. Reporter: Three long months after his death, wife Aurora and daughter Irwin's ashes to rest. He can F rest in peace. I was saying, okay, we can finally put you in your resting place forever. Reporter: Irwin's legacy first and foremost a loving a dedicated caregiver. Butis family hopes his death, like so many filipino-american health care worke will not go unnoticed. I wish people would see that all these numbers, these statistics, there are human lives to them. They are someone's father, someone's mother, someone's sister, someone's significant other. But I don't want people to forget the humanity behind the statistics. Our thanks to juju.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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