Federal, provincial and municipal leaders in Canada have adopted a culture of preparedness with the development and update of emergency plans in anticipation of different types of disasters. As evident during the 2003 global outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), it is important to provide support for health care workers (HCWs) who are vulnerable during infectious outbreak scenarios. Here we focus on the identification and evaluation of existing support mechanisms incorporated within emergency plans across various jurisdictional levels.
Qualitative content analysis of 12 emergency plans from national, provincial and municipal levels were conducted using NVIVO software. The plans were scanned and coded according to 1) informational, 2) instrumental, and 3) emotional support mechanisms for HCWs and other first responders.
Emergency plans were comprised of a predominance of informational and instrumental supports, yet few emotional or social support mechanisms. All the plans lacked gender-based analysis of how infectious disease outbreaks impact male and female HCWs differently. Acknowledgement of the need for emotional supports was evident at higher jurisdictional levels, but recommended for implementation locally.
While support mechanisms for HCWs are included in this sample of emergency plans, content analysis revealed few emotional or social supports planned for critical personnel; particularly for those who will be required to work in extremely stressful conditions under significant personal risk. The implications of transferring responsibilities for support to local and institutional jurisdictions are discussed.