Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

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RNAO releases final report on SARS outbreak

2004-06-29

RNs mark the one-year anniversary of the loss of two colleagues in the line of duty

TORONTO, June 29, 2004 – The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) released today its final report on nurses’ experiences during the SARS outbreak. SARS unmasked: Celebrating resilience, exposing vulnerability acknowledges that this crisis was unlike any we had experienced before, and argues that we – government, health organizations, and health-care professionals – were ill-prepared to tackle SARS.

“Today we give voice to the hundreds of nurses who worked and lived through the SARS outbreak in Ontario,” said RNAO president Joan Lesmond. “SARS was an experience our profession will never forget and to many nurses, it was the worst of times. Their voices are at the heart of our report.”

In August, the association conducted 15 focus groups and 51 additional personal interviews, which are the foundation of today’s report. In a key recommendation, also presented to Justice Campbell’s Commission to Investigate the Introduction and Spread of SARS in Ontario in September 2003, the association asks the government to immediately introduce whistle-blower legislation to ensure nurses and other health-care workers can express concerns without fear of reprisals from employers. “RNAO first requested this legislation from then Premier Harris in March of 1998. Failure to implement this legislation means an important safety valve is missing from the health-care system,” said RNAO executive director Doris Grinspun.

The report also calls on government and employers to establish a benchmark of 85 per cent productivity for nurses and nurse managers to ensure safe patient care, better support for nurses and sufficient surge capacity to respond to short-term crises. “The association also urges employers to unequivocally commit to reaching the target of 70 per cent full-time employment for RNs by 2005. The overreliance on part-time, casual and agency work threatens the viability of the health-care system in good times, let alone in emergency situations,” said Grinspun.

RNAO is pleased that the government is responding swiftly to the recommendations in the interim Campbell and final Walker reports to rebuild Ontario’s public health system and bolster the nursing profession. “We applaud Premier McGuinty and Minister Smitherman for their clear commitment to nursing,” said Lesmond. “This year’s funding announcements for full-time nursing positions have been welcome news for RNs and the more than 3,000 new RNs joining the profession this summer.”

“RNAO will continue to work with government, employers, and nurses to bring the proportion of RNs working full-time to 70 per cent and to ensure we are better prepared to respond to the next infectious disease outbreak or health emergency,” said Grinspun.

During the outbreak, RNAO:

  • Supported and advised hundreds of nurses, and advocated for nurses and the public they serve
  • Led a SARS Nursing Advisory Committee, bringing together representatives from all nursing organizations and affected health-care settings
  • Created and maintained an online support board for nurses with more than 2,300 postings
  • Called for a full, independent, broad-based investigation into the outbreak (June 1) and filed a formal request with then Premier Eves for a full public inquiry (June 9)
  • Launched the Voluntarily Immediately Available Nurse (VIANurse) registry, in collaboration with the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario, with support from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Ontario Nurses Association and the Ontario Hospital Association. VIANurse is a fully operational, electronic registry, maintained confidentially on RNAO’s Web site, of RNs and RPNs who have indicated their availability to be deployed to an Ontario health-care facility designated by the Ministry as being in an emergency.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the loss of our colleagues – Nelia Laroza and Tecla Lin – to SARS, and to honour the commitment and dedication of the hundreds of nurses on the front line during the SARS outbreak, the association is hosting today a private gathering for the nursing community.

To read RNAO’s full report, visit www.rnao.ca.

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses wherever they practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.

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For more information, please contact:
Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO
Phone: 416-408-5605
Toll free: 1-800-268-7199 ext.209
Cell: 647-406-5605
mzych@rnao.ca

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