Nurse Nina Pham, the first person infected with Ebola in the US, reportedly plans to sue her employer over the way they handled the medical crisis at their facility.
Pham, 26, was one of the nurses who provided care for Thomas Duncan, who was the first known person to die of Ebola in the US. She says that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and its parent company, Texas Health Resources, failed her and her colleagues who cared for Duncan.
Jennifer Emily of The Dallas Morning News interviewed Pham and broke the story on February 28:
Pham says she will file a lawsuit Monday in Dallas County against Texas Health Resources alleging that while she became the American face of the fight against the disease, the hospital’s lack of training and proper equipment and violations of her privacy made her “a symbol of corporate neglect — a casualty of a hospital system’s failure to prepare for a known and impending medical crisis.”
She says that Texas Health Resources was negligent because it failed to develop policies and train its staff for treating Ebola patients. She says Texas Health Resources did not have proper protective gear for those who treated Duncan.
After Duncan died, Pham said she met with someone from the CDC and the hospital’s employee health manager to discuss her care of Duncan and how she protected herself.
She said they deemed her no risk.
But a few days after Duncan died, Pham was diagnosed with Ebola. She was initially treated at Presbyterian and then at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland with a series of experimental drugs and plasma from Dr. Kent Brantly, an Ebola survivor.
It really isn’t a surprise that Pham (and Amber Vinson, another nurse who cared for Duncan) contracted the deadly disease, considering what conditions were like at the hospital:
The day Duncan moved to ICU, Pham said, she and the charge nurse went in with double gloves taped to double gowns and wore double booties and a face shield. The hospital did not have hazmat-type suits, and Pham said her neck was always exposed.
“We’ve had nurses that I’ve worked with that worked in other states, and they worked in hazmat suits for flu and H1N1,” Pham said. “Why aren’t we wearing hazmat suits for Ebola?”
After days of asking, Pham said, the nurses were given hazmat suits. She said all the decisions to upgrade the protective gear and precautions were made by the nurses “on the fly.”
Meanwhile, the nurses devised their own hazardous waste area. In a room adjacent to Duncan’s, the nurses set up a place to take off their protective gear and shower after caring for him. In another nearby room, they placed bags of dirty linens, towels and other soiled items.
The nurses and respiratory therapists poured bleach into every bag, zip-tied them and placed them in cardboard containers. Pham estimated that the waste filled half a patient room.
No one would collect the waste or clean up, Pham said. At one point, the toilet the staff used stopped working and no one came to fix it.
“We were mopping floors with bleach and doing janitorial work and dealing with hazardous, lethal waste,” Pham said. “It was very physically and emotionally draining.”
Pham said the extent of her Ebola training was printout of guidelines her supervisor found online.
In October, Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, testified at a congressional hearing that the company shared an Ebola advisory it received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with its personnel before Duncan arrived, and said the Presbyterian staff was trained to manage Ebola.
But Varga also acknowledged that the communication wasn’t adequate and that Texas Health Resources needed “more proactive, intensive and focused training for the frontline responders” to Ebola. He also said the hospital followed CDC and state guidelines.
Remember, the CDC didn’t even seem sure about how to handle Ebola cases. Their initial protocol for using safety gear was disturbingly inadequate. The agency also changed information on its Ebola transmission page several times, without notifying the public about it.
That didn’t stop director Dr. Thomas Frieden from proclaiming that “Essentially any hospital in the country can safely take care of Ebola. You don’t need a special hospital to do it.” But in reality, Ebola is classified as a biosafety level 4 pathogen (BSL-4), and there are only a few facilities in the US that are equipped to handle such a disease.
Government spokespeople and mainstream media mouthpieces kept assuring us that Ebola was not a threat here, that the US medical system was thoroughly prepared to handle cases of the disease.
But nurses and other experts spoke out and said that wasn’t true. Many said that US healthcare facilities were unprepared and untrained to handle Ebola patients.
And Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is a tragic example of that inadequacy. It began when Duncan was originally misdiagnosed and sent home with antibiotics and ended with two of the facility’s own nurses becoming infected.
Pham said that Texas Health Resources violated her privacy while she was a patient at Presbyterian by ignoring her request that “no information” be released about her.
She also said a doctor recorded her on video in her hospital room and released it to the public without her permission:
Before Pham’s flight to Maryland on Oct. 16, she said, a doctor wearing a video camera under his protective hood came into her room and said he was filming her for educational purposes. Pham said she did not give permission for the video, which was released to the media.
“Thanks for getting well. Thanks for being part of the volunteer team to take care of our first patient,” a man’s voice said in the video. “It means a lot. This has been a huge effort by all of you guys.”
Pham, still lying in her Dallas hospital bed, got teary-eyed and said, “Come to Maryland, everybody.”
Charla Aldous, Pham’s attorney, says Texas Health Resources “used Nina as a PR pawn.”
It certainly does seem that way, especially considering that the day Pham was transferred to NIH, a note was made in her medical file that said “she does not have the mental capability to make end-of-life decisions,” Aldous said.
But PR people from Texas Health were trying to talk to her for a media release “about how much she loves Presbyterian,” Aldous said.
Pham is planning to fly to NIH to donate some of her plasma for research. She says she is concerned about the possible long-term health effects of Ebola and the experimental drugs.
She is seeking unspecified damages for physical pain and mental anguish, medical expenses and loss of future earnings. But Pham said that she wants to “make hospitals and big corporations realize that nurses and health care workers, especially frontline people, are important. And we don’t want nurses to start turning into patients.”
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Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”