The full story continues to unfold about what happened with the first U.S. Ebola-diagnosed patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, but this week, nurses at that facility went public with their own concerns.
As described in a story by the Los Angeles Times, a group of nurses who either treated the Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, or had first-hand information from those who did, said the hospital’s response was confused and chaotic when Duncan arrived at the emergency room, and that he languished for hours in a room with as many as seven other patients. They claimed that hospital authorities resisted isolating him.
They also said that the nurses treating him had insufficient gear and had not been given training for handling such a patient. A few days ago, as the facts about Duncan’s initial treatment began to emerge, our blog “Ebola Patient’s ER Discharge Was Classic Malpractice” enumerated the ways in which Presbyterian Hospital appeared to breach accepted safe practices.
It’s incredibly rare for medical staffers to call out their colleagues or employers, and this group did so in a conference call with reporters. But in an interview after the nurses’ statement was released, a friend of Nina Pham, the Presbyterian nurse who contracted ebola as a result of her care for Duncan, told The Times that Pham had not complained about problems at the hospital before or after she was assigned to care for Duncan.
She said Pham had confidence in the hospital’s protocols for preventing infection, and called her a “brilliant” and caring nurse.
As individuals, the nurses lodged their allegations anonymously, but provided a statement read by Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United (NNU). Although the nurses from Presbyterian Hospital are not members of a union, the NNU has been upfront in criticizing the general failure of hospitals to prepare for ebola. So the nurses in Dallas asked the NNU to air their grievances so they wouldn’t be at risk of getting fired.
NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro would not confirm the number of Dallas nurses who signed the statement or how many were on the media call.
They decided to speak out after their colleague Pham was diagnosed, and dissed. They were – and are – angry that health officials were suggesting that Pham was at fault for her situation, that she had made a mistake that exposed her to the virus. They want to hold the hospital responsible for its mistakes.
Duncan wasn’t isolated from other people, they claim; that eventually happened only by demand of a supervising nurse who nevertheless, they said, “faced stiff resistance from other hospital authorities.”
They also claim that his lab samples were sent through the usual hospital tube system “without being specifically sealed and hand-delivered. The result is that the entire tube system … was potentially contaminated.”
The statement said the hospital had no clear rules on how to handle Ebola patients, despite months of alerts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the possible presentation of ebola in the U.S.
“There was no advanced preparedness on what to do with the patient,” they said. “There was no protocol. There was no system.”
If nurses had questions, they claimed, they were directed to call the infectious disease department, but it had no answers either. Essentially, they were on their own in dealing with what they called “copious amounts” of Duncan’s highly contagious bodily fluids even though they had no wrist tape to secure their gloves, no booties and only flimsy gowns that did not cover their necks.
“Hospital officials allowed nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient-care duties,” the statement said, potentially exposing others to the virus.
And how are these deficiencies Pham’s fault?
The L.A. Times acknowledged that it could not independently confirm the nurses’ allegations, which differ sharply from the situation hospital officials have described. But their account is withering as information accumulates, and another hospital staffer has been diagnosed with the virus.
Earlier in the day when the nurses’ allegations were released, the hospital said Pham’s condition was improving, and issued a statement from her. She said she was “blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world.”
We can only hope it’s true, because it certainly appears as though hospital administration was deeply deficient and, apparently, unwilling the tell the truth.