Are Nurses Ready for a Pandemic?

As nurses, how prepared are we for a pandemic? We read and hear about preparations â€" or lack thereof â€" but what about us?

A train in Canada was quarantined for a day because of the mysterious death of a passenger, followed by fellow passengers becoming ill. The train was stopped in a small town in Ontario so fully protected medical workers could board to assess the situation.

Luckily, there was nothing contagious that necessitated the quarantine from continuing and, from all accounts, the passengers understood and accepted the need for it. At first glance, the reaction may have seemed to be extreme — but was it? Having lived through the SARS crisis in 2003, public health officials are saying that the reaction was right and appropriate.

As nurses, how prepared are we for a pandemic? We read and hear about preparations — or lack thereof – but what about us? A few years ago, the Order of Nurses of Quebec sent out questionnaires to all non-practicing RNs to see if they would be available to help out in a pandemic situation and in what capacity. They were collecting this information along with other healthcare associations in order to get a handle on the number of people who could be put into action.

However, it’s one thing to have an action plan on paper, it’s another for it to work the way it should. Although more men are entering nursing, the majority of nurses are still women. Many of these women are mothers of young children or caregivers to older parents — or both. In reality, will these women be willing to risk their lives and expose themselves to the virus in order to care for pandemic victims? Or, not even that – how many nurses will want to leave their families in a state of emergency? Will they have childcare? Will the childcare providers be available or will they be fighting their own battle against the pandemic?

In a perfect world, nurses would report to local hospitals and clinics, ready to get to work to help fight a pandemic. But this isn’t a perfect world. Can the health system run if the nurses aren’t there to help?

I wrote an article for physicians once on disaster medicine. One of the physicians I interviewed was on a task force for disaster planning and he said that one of the foremost, most important issues for their planning was for the physicians to know that their families were safe. That means that the powers-that-be are acknowledging that the physicians will likely be less willing to work in an emergency unless they can be assured that their loved ones are looked after and not in danger.

That begs the question — what about the nurses? Is such a set up available for us? If society needs the nurses to help care for them in times of trouble, then society should also be aware that nurses have families that need care as well. If they need us, they need to find a way to help us too. Don’t you think?