Nurses' beliefs about public health emergencies: Fear of abandonment

Carol O'Boyle, Cheryl Robertson, Molly Secor-Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: Since the events of September 11, 2001, subsequent anthrax mailings, world political events, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent tsunami, public health emergencies including bioterrorism events are viewed as realistic possibilities. Public health emergencies would stress the current health care system. Objective: The objective was to identify beliefs and concerns of nurses who work in hospitals designated as receiving sites during public health emergencies. Methods: A qualitative study using focus groups with a total of 33 hospital nurses in 2003 was used. Audiotapes were analyzed, and codes, categories, and a theme were identified. Results: Fear of abandonment was the overarching theme. Nurses believed that clinical settings would be chaotic, without a clear chain of command, and with some colleagues refusing to work. Limited access to personal protective equipment, risk of infection, unmanageable numbers of patients, and possibly being assaulted for their personal protective equipment resulted in the sense that they would be in unsafe clinical environments. Loss of freedom to leave the hospital and fears that hospitals would not provide treatment to nurses who become ill as a result of caring for patients contributed to the sense of abandonment. Conclusion: Although these nurses worked in hospitals with comprehensive public health emergency plans, they believed that they would not have readily accessible material and human resources to cope with a bioterrorism event. Readiness plans should include a systematic assessment of nurses' concerns. Health care readiness plans should incorporate focused interventions to improve safety, a sense of control, and facilitate coping in public health emergencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-357
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of infection control
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota.


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