Nurse Who Contracted Ebola to Sue Texas Hospital Parent Company

Nina Pham was the first nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas to contract the Ebola virus after caring for patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died October 8, 2014. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Pham said she will sue the hospital's parent company today for unspecified damages, citing inadequate training and safety measures and for violations to her privacy.

Nina Pham became the first person to contract the Ebola virus in the United States last fall when she fell ill after caring for patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Dallas’ Texas Presbyterian Hospital. This weekend, she told a newspaper that she will sue the hospital’s parent company today to hold officials accountable for failing to take steps to ensure nurses’ safety, and for multiple instances in which her privacy was violated.

On Saturday, Ms Pham told The Dallas Morning News that while she no longer has the Ebola virus, she is still suffering some effects of her ordeal, including aches and pains and hair loss. She worries whether it is safe for her to have a child. Her lawsuit will allege that her hospital’s lack of training for the nursing staff, as well as inadequate equipment or protocols for disposal of medical waste made her a “symbol of corporate neglect.”

A second Texas Presbyterian nurse, Amber Vinson, was later diagnosed with Ebola and has since recovered.

Ms Pham’s suit against Texas Health Resources will seek unspecified damages for physical pain and mental anguish, medical expenses and loss of future earnings. Ms Pham told the newspaper she wants to “make hospitals and big corporations realize that nurses and health care workers, especially frontline people, are important.”

Last fall, the National Nurses Union (NNU) rallied in support of Ms Pham after her diagnosis and cited a survey of its members that found 85% reported their hospital had not provided education on Ebola that included an opportunity for nurses to ask questions. Since then, the NNU worked with the California Nurses’ Association to settle a contract with Kaiser Permanente that includes provisions for nurses to receive this type of training.

In response, Texas Health Resources offered this statement: “Nina Pham bravely served Texas Health Dallas during a most difficult time. We continue to support and wish the best for her, and we remain optimistic that constructive dialogue can resolve this matter.” The company has previously reached undisclosed settlements with Mr Duncan’s family (he contracted the virus in his native Liberia and was misdiagnosed during his first visit to the hospital).

Nurse Cites “On the Fly” Decisions

In the interview, Ms Pham and her attorney described the “on the fly” nature of the decision-making by hospital officials when MR Duncan was discovered to have Ebola. Ms Pham said she “was the last person besides Mr. Duncan to find out he was positive,” even though she was the primary nurse responsible for his care. It took nurses days to receive hazmat suits; prior to that, they improvised with double-taped double gloves and gowns, which still left part of Ms Pham’s neck exposed.

Daniel Varga, MD, chief clinical officer for parent company Texas Health Resources, previously told Congress that the company shared an Ebola advisory from the CDC and said the staff was trained to manage Ebola. Ms Pham told the newspaper she only knew what she had learned in nursing school 6 years’ prior.

Ms Pham described the makeshift disposal center nurses created in a room adjacent to Mr Duncan’s. Nurses used the space to remove their protective gear and shower after caring for him; in another room, they bagged up dirty linens and other items, which they doused with bleach, zip-tied and boxed up. But no one would remove the waste or clean the room. When the toilet backed up, no one would fix it.

Claims of Privacy Violations

When Ms Pham realized she was running a fever (her temperature reached 100.6), she called Texas Presbyterian’s emergency department and told them who she was and that she was coming in. As she was admitted, Ms Pham told the newspaper, she was adamant that no information be released; she suggested she be admitted as “Jane Doe.” But that did not happen.

Harder to explain was a doctor’s decision to make a video of Ms Pham, which he told her would be used for training purposes. Ms Pham said she did not give permission for this; the video was released to the media when she was transferred to a Maryland hospital at the National Institutes of Health, where she received plasma from a recovered Ebola patient.

“They had a PR nightmare on their hands with what happened with Mr. Duncan … and then us being infected with Ebola. Not just one nurse, but two,” Ms Pham told the newspaper. “People lost faith in them, especially after we got sick.”

Since coming home, Ms Pham has not returned to work and is on the lookout for symptoms that could be signs for Ebola complications. She told the newspaper this has caused her considerable anxiety. “That’s the scariest part,” she said. “It’s the uncertainty.”

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