15 Years Post-SARS: Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

April 26, 2018

TORONTO – Fifteen years ago this month, Toronto was mid-way through an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that sickened hundreds, killed 44 patients and resulted in 25,000 Toronto residents being sent into quarantine.

Today, on this important anniversary, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) is remembering the health-care heroes who risked their lives to care for patients with SARS. Two registered nurses gave their lives to care for their patients and many, many others were unnecessarily exposed and became critically ill for months. Many of these same nurses and other workers still suffer from physical impairments and from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of that lethal outbreak.”

ONA is also asking hard questions about the lessons learned from SARS.

“In the current environment, we have seen a shift from full-time to part-time employment for RNs,” notes ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. “This has resulted in these valuable nurses being forced to work for more than one employer – and sometimes in a variety of sectors, such as in a hospital and a nursing home. This means that in the event of an outbreak like SARS or Ebola, for example, there is an increased risk of spreading infection throughout the health-care system. Health-care workers will not be able to work for more than one employer if such an outbreak occurs, causing a shortage of nurses at a time when they will be needed even more. And those same nurses will suffer from a lack of income during an outbreak as well.”

McKenna notes that despite strong, sensible recommendations in the post-SARS Campbell Report, Ontario has failed to implement many of the recommendations. Most importantly, Justice Campbell’s number-one message – to adopt the precautionary principle “that safety comes first…reasonable efforts to reduce risk need not await scientific proof” – has yet to be adopted. Justice Campbell wrote that “unless this precautionary principle is fully recognized, mandated and enforced in Ontario hospitals, workers will continue to be at risk.”

“Ontario’s health-care system today is chronically overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed,” she notes. “Public health units – our eyes and ears on community health – have seen their funding fail to keep pace with inflation, and they may be amalgamated into far fewer bodies to monitor and prevent infectious disease outbreaks. We flirt with disaster.”

“April 28 is the national day of mourning,” said McKenna. “Each year, ONA members remember our RN members Nelia Laroza and Tecla Lin, who died to due to poor infection control practices and a lack of proper personal protective equipment. While hospital management and government argued about the equipment, our members were being infected.”

ONA is the union representing 65,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as 16,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.


For more information:

Sheree Bond: (416) 964-8833, ext. 2430; cell: (416) 986-8240; shereeb@ona.org

Melanie Levenson: (416) 964-8833, ext. 2369; melaniel@ona.org