Ontario registered nurses have a limited right to refuse unsafe work under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. Still, the question remains: will nurses refuse to care for Ebola patients should we ever be faced with that scenario?
As President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), the largest nurses’ union in Canada, I can unreservedly state that nurses will be there to care for Ebola patients – with the appropriate protocols, personal protective equipment (PPE), training, testing and drilling in place.
It’s our job.
When the spectre of Ebola in North America first appeared, the news for nurses was very discouraging. Two nurses quickly contracted the virus despite using personal protective equipment and care protocols that followed those directed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
As we now know, the CDC’s directed protocols and protective equipment – which left the skin on the nurses’ necks exposed – was inadequate.
Ontario nurses are particularly aware of the need for Personal Protective Equipment.
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, there was disagreement among groups of what the appropriate PPE was. Communication was chaotic and hospital management woefully ignorant in infection control.
Following the infection of dozens of health care workers and the death of two RNs, we are, thankfully, wiser.
For the ONA, having the outstanding work of the Campbell commission and its SARS report made advocating for the use of the precautionary principle easier.
The ONA has been raising the alarm about Ebola preparedness for months. The provincial government has met with us, and they listened as we and other health care providers detailed exactly what is needed to prevent a repeat of SARS.
Nurses know that we face risk every time we care for a patient. We are exposed to infectious diseases, hazardous chemicals such as anesthetic and chemotherapy drugs, injury from malfunctioning hospital equipment, and to an unacceptable risk of suffering from violence in the workplace.
We know the risk is there but we also know there is much that can be done in the area of safety and infection control and prevention.
We became nurses to care for patients. We want to be there to provide the high-quality care our patients need.
To that end, the government’s commitment to ensure that critical care RNs in the 10 designated Ontario Ebola Treatment Centres and emergency department RNs will have the training, testing, appropriate PPE and drills needed. This means that there should be a safe work environment to allow us to do our jobs safely.
As agreed to by government, there must also be two fully equipped and trained RNs to treat each Ebola patient at all times.
If a nurse is working for an employer that has not complied with all of the measures, procedures, equipment and training as directed, there remains the right to refuse this unsafe work until such time as the proper equipment and training has been completed.
ONA is determined that RNs will not be put into unsafe situations as we were during SARS. We continue to work with dedication and a commitment to our members’ safety to enable RNs in this province to provide that care without concern about their personal safety or having to refuse unsafe work.