DALLAS—A Liberian man who arrived by ambulance at a Dallas hospital with symptoms of Ebola sat for “several hours” in a room with other patients before being put in isolation, and the nurses who treated him wore flimsy gowns and had little protective gear, nurses alleged on Tuesday as they fought back against suggestions that one of their own had erred in handling him.
The statements came as Nina Pham, a 26-year-old nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, fought off the Ebola virus after contracting it from Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan. The statements by the Dallas hospital nurses were read by representatives of the Oakland, California-based group National Nurses United.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, said the nonunionized Texas nurses could not identify themselves, speak to the media independently or even read their statements over the phone because they feared losing their jobs.
In a conference call, questions from the media were relayed to the unknown number of nurses by National Nurses United representatives, and the responses were read back to reporters.
DeMoro said all of the nurses had direct knowledge of what had transpired in the days after Duncan arrived at the hospital on September 28.
Among other things, they said that Duncan “was left for several hours, not in isolation, in an area where other patients were present.”
When a nurse supervisor demanded that he be moved into isolation, the supervisor “faced resistance from other hospital authorities,” the nurses said.
They described a hospital with no clear guidelines in place for handling Ebola patients, where Duncan’s lab specimens were sent through the usual hospital tube system “without being specifically sealed and hand-delivered. The result is that the entire tube system, which all the lab systems are sent, was potentially contaminated,” they said.
“There was no advanced preparedness on what to do with the patient. There was no protocol; there was no system. The nurses were asked to call the infectious disease department” if they had questions, they said.
The nurses said they were essentially left to figure things out for themselves as they dealt with “copious amounts” of body fluids from Duncan while wearing gloves with no wrist tapes, gowns that did not cover their necks, and no surgical booties.
Protective gear eventually arrived, but not until three days after Duncan’s admission to the hospital, they said.
The nurses’ allegations conflict with what hospital officials have been saying since Duncan’s admission: that they have strict protocols in place for handling such patients and that a mistake led to Pham becoming infected while she treated him.
The hospital released the following statement after the nurses’ comments:
“Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very seriously. We have numerous measures in place to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training and a 24-7 hotline and other mechanisms that allow for anonymous reporting.
“Our nursing staff is committed to providing quality, compassionate care, as we have always known, and as the world has seen firsthand in recent days. We will continue to review and respond to any concerns raised by our nurses and all employees.”
DeMoro said the nurses came forward and asked Nurses United to publicize their statements out of anger they were being blamed for what had happened to their colleague.
The nurses statements come as an additional 76 health-care workers who were involved in the treatment of Duncan are being watched for symptoms of Ebola and as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pledged to improve its response to hospitals in the event of more Ebola cases.
The new group is in addition to the 48 people who have been monitored since Duncan was first diagnosed with Ebola symptoms after arriving in Dallas last month, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday.
No one in the original group, which includes family and friends of Duncan, has developed Ebola symptoms, and they now are two-thirds of the way through the period of greatest risk of becoming infected.
Image credits: AP/Richard Drew