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Lessons not followed from the SARS Commission report

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“If we do not learn from SARS and we do not make the government fix the problems that remain, we will pay a terrible price in the next pandemic,” said Justice Archie Campbell in 2006 as he finished the SARS Commission’s final report.

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He continued: “When facing a new pathogen with unknown transmission, err on the side of safety and protect healthcare workers at the highest levels with airborne precautions including N95 respirators.”

A 2019 study by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union found that nurses experience “widespread and severe symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression and burnout at a rate higher than the general population.”

Nearly 20 per cent of all COVID-19 infections are among healthcare workers because of a government’s poor approach to worker safety – a government who failed to learn from the lesson of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

The commission report released on April 30 details what happened during COVID-19 in long-term care settings.

There was the widespread failure of employers to listen to and act upon the concerns and recommendations of the nursing staff.

Healthcare workers are overworked and understaffed, while putting their physical and mental health at risk. Healthcare workers are facing unprecedented challenges and exhaustion as they continue to work amidst fear, uncertainty and a slow vaccine rollout. The news that tens of thousands of nursing jobs are unfilled across Canada should come as no surprise. Nurses are fleeing hospitals and long-term care homes, and who can blame them?

The nursing shortage has been the subject of much thumbsucking for decades. The quality of care can only ever be as good as the work environment of those who provide the care. Poor working conditions translates into patient suffering from neglect. The critical lack of staff in long-term care settings makes it difficult to use the 6,000 empty long-term beds as an offset for hospitals struggling with an influx of patients. In addition, about 37,000 people in Ontario remain on the waitlist for admission to long-term care.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed hospitals and nursing homes to the breaking point, but that pales in comparison to what a severe nursing shortage will do. The physically demanding and mentally punishing work for nurses is not for the faint of heart. Also, Wage Legislation Bill 124 limits total wage increases to one per cent or less for three years for nurses, thus infringing on the right to freely negotiate a collective agreement, thanks to Premier Doug Ford.

People following public health guidelines will help bring this pandemic under control and that shows the most respect to nurses and healthcare professionals. Nurses who have worked directly with COVID-19 patients or have had family and friends that have tested positive say it feels incredibly disrespectful to see people who disregard public health measures.

For all the healthcare workers out there, whether you are a PSW, or RPN, or an RN, please have a safe Nurses Week.

G.C. Lester

Sarnia

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