Nurse Nina Pham, the 26-year-old who contracted Ebola while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, plans to file a lawsuit against her employer. Duncan died on October 8, and Pham tested positive for Ebola a few days later.
She told The Dallas Morning News in an exclusive interview that lack of training and proper equipment, coupled with privacy violations “made her a symbol of corporate neglect and a casualty of a hospital system’s failure to prepare for a known and impending medical crisis.”
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.’
While the hospital failed to provide proper protective gear, it is reported that nurses had to set up their own makeshift hazardous waste area that took up half of a patient room. No one in the hospital was collecting the waste or cleaning it up – supporting her claim of the hospital’s negligence in having set protocols for this public health emergency.
Of course, as soon as news of the lawsuit ran on the NBC News Facebook page, commenters had to demonize the compassionate woman that had cared for and held the hand of a dying man, risking her own life as a result.
Clearly, none of these people have an understanding of what took place in that hospital. They don’t “get” that nurses don’t just carry around hazmat suits in their cars, on the ready for their next Ebola patient. That type of equipment is provided by the employer. Yes, our medical professionals will always be at risk for infection, that IS part of the job. Occupational hazards absolutely exist and no one denies that. However, it is not an unrealistic expectation that an employer will minimize those risks.
This hospital failed this nurse. This isn’t a case of Pham or her colleagues not following protocols. The hospital didn’t have appropriate protocols in place to handle this type of crisis. They should have, and they dropped the ball more than once.
Management did not take the steps to protect their workforce, and Pham suffered injury as a result.
If our nurses cannot trust that their employers will provide them with the proper equipment and effective policy to protect them from infectious disease, we have an extremely concerning breakdown in our health systems. However, this isn’t just a matter of trust – this particular hospital didn’t protect their nurses. Period. Without that protection, two nurses were injured on the job as a result.
Nina Pham placed her life on the line to do her job. She used the inadequate protective equipment, provided by her employer, while doing so.
Perhaps her efforts will pave the way to protect nurses that will face similar situations in the future.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons