Aim: This paper presents the findings of a staff survey conducted at a 350-bed acute care facility located on the periphery of Toronto, Canada.
Background: Toronto's severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis resulted in trauma-like effects at hospitals hardest hit by the disease. A systematic examination of the impact on staff working in hospitals that saw relatively few cases, while maintaining the precautions associated with elevated alert levels, has not been undertaken.
Methods: A questionnaire was distributed for 1 month commencing 17 April 2003 and 300 completed responses were obtained (approximately one in six staff members). The data collected included demographic and occupational information, in addition to perceptions of SARS' impact on patient care, factors contributing to adverse impacts on patient care, working conditions, decision-making, communication and relations, sources of support, and the impact on workers' lives outside work. Items for these sections were developed by a multi-disciplinary team of health care workers and hospital administrators.
Results: In the absence of pre-SARS normative data for the survey, demographic and occupational variables were used to look for patterns of differences between relevant subgroups of respondents. Statistically significant differences were found for gender (73.9% women), nurses (24.7%) vs. others, doctors (20.3%) vs. others, older (40 years or older, 60.0%) vs. younger persons, emergency or intensive care unit workers (8.0%) vs. others, and those employed fewer years at the hospital (less than 5 years: 46.2%) vs. five or more years. These differences varied across the following domains: factors adversely affecting patients, communications, support, working conditions, decision-making and, to a lesser extent, impact on life outside work. While all groups found SARS stressful, nurses reported a greater impact on morale and job satisfaction. Nurses relied more on peer support than doctors, felt less informed and less involved in decision-making than doctors felt, and were more likely to report that infection control procedures were not strict enough.
Conclusions: The between-group differences and the pattern of these differences clearly illustrate the polarizing and stressful impact SARS had at a hospital with only a small number of probable or suspect cases. The clear differences between groups defined by demographics, professions and clinical roles suggest a subtle and pervasive secondary impact of the SARS outbreak, with repercussions health care facilities must contend with while maintaining increased levels of vigilance in the wake of SARS.