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Nurses mobilized for bird flu

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  • Nurses mobilized for bird flu

    Nurses mobilized for bird flu

    67,000 active Quebec to call on private sector, retirees, students in the event of a pandemic

    KATE LUNAU, The Gazette

    Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Quebec's Health Department is mobilizing nurses across the province in case of an avian flu pandemic, The Gazette has learned.

    Nurses working outside the public sector, retirees and even nursing students will be called on in the event of a bird flu outbreak in the province.
    Nurses would staff public hospitals, private clinics and even non-traditional sites like arenas and gymnasiums to care for the public and provide mass vaccinations.

    "In the case of a pandemic, nurses themselves may get sick," said Louise Cantin, secretary-general of the Quebec Order of Nurses, a professional association. "Replacements would be needed not only to take their spots but to handle increased demand from the public."

    For planning purposes, the Health Department hypothesizes an avian flu pandemic could affect 35 per cent of Quebec's population in its first eight weeks. If that scenario plays out, 2.6 million people would be infected within that period, and 8,500 could die.

    At the request of Health and Social Services Minister Philippe Couillard, the Quebec Order of Nurses contacted 18,000 nurses employed outside the public sector to determine which ones would be willing to work for the province in case of a pandemic.

    Those include nurses employed by private clinics, insurance agencies, laboratories and nursing schools.

    Nurses who have been retired for less than five years were also contacted. After a refresher course, they could be reinstated as full nurses.
    The pay and benefits would be identical to part-time public sector nurses, Cantin said.

    There now are about 67,000 active nurses in Quebec in both the public and private sectors.

    The people contacted were asked where in Quebec they would be willing to work, because the province's less inhabited areas could face a shortage of health-care workers.

    "The Health Department would cover displacement costs," Cantin said.
    As of yesterday, the Order had received replies from about 2,000 nurses willing to help.

    In the fall, when classes resume, nursing students who have completed two of their three years of study will also be contacted. There are about 5,400 such students in the province.

    "After the second year of study, nursing students are eligible to do some hospital work, like providing vaccinations and first aid," Cantin said.
    "In case of a flu pandemic, schools may close," Cantin said. "Nursing students would be free to help fight the outbreak."

    The Health Department will use the information to compile a database of nurses employed outside the public sector, to be drawn on in case of a pandemic.
    The database would be refreshed every year.

    This is the first time the Health Department has asked for such help from the Quebec Order of Nurses, Cantin said.

    "As those outside the public sector are not the department's employees, the minister could not reach them," she said

    For more information on influenza prevention in Quebec, visit

    ONLINE EXTRA: Two dozen scientists from around the world gather in high-tech classrooms in Iowa to learn how to diagnose avian flu and control its spread.
    © The Gazette (Montreal) 2006

  • #2
    Re: Nurses mobilized for bird flu

    Excellent! At least it seems Quebec is coordinating. Does anyone know if similar plans are occurring in the USA?



    • #3
      Re: Nurses mobilized for bird flu

      The Medical Reserve Corps ( was organized in the Office of the Surgeon General after Sept 11, 2001 to develop capacity to respond to catastrophic public health events. Last month they published a 10 page checklist for pandemic planning for local MRC chapters. (

      The challenge we face in the US is the limited health infrastructure. I work with an MRC chapter in Florida and in health care. Today in our town of just over 150,000 people, all 3 hospitals are overloaded in the emergency rooms. The IOM published earlier this week on the American ER system as needing critical care (

      The article above makes reference to total number of nurses in Quebec but does not state the findings of their survey on how many would respond in a pandemic. A study in Maryland found that 42% of health care workers said they would not come to work in a pandemic environment.

      The US Surgeon General, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, has presented several speeches on building surge capacity in the USA but I have not seen the plan.

      For our own MRC chapter, I just do not see a lot of doctors retired and hanging around ready to volunteer. Doctors tend not to retire unless they have to. On the other hand, many nurses have left direct care over the years and could possibly come back.

      My opinion, not widely shared, is that much of the current American medical effort in hospitals and clinics could be redirected to effectively confront a pandemic. I hope we can increase the number of current hospital workers who can train to work in a pandemic environment and provide oversight for non-medical volunteers who are trained to do some basic health care. We have a lot of work ahead but it is doable.

      The MRC website in its News and Events sections provides many examples of good work around the country.