Ebola Nurse Sues Hospital for Employer Negligence
Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse who contracted the Ebola virus while treating an infected patient, is suing her employer, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. She claims she contracted the virus because her employer was negligent by failing to provide adequate training or protection for working with such a highly contagious patient. She also says her employer then violated her privacy while she was being treated for the virus by using her as a pawn in a public relations campaign to protect their image.
Pham was the first person to contract the Ebola virus on U.S. soil. She contracted the virus while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who was exposed to the virus in Liberia before travelling to Dallas in September 2014. When it was determined that Duncan was likely to have Ebola, he was admitted to the hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Pham worked, even though he didn’t meet the hospital’s criteria to be in the ICU.
Although it has often been said that Pham volunteered to take care of Duncan, she says he was assigned to her even though she had no training in handling infectious diseases and the hospital did not provide her with any training about how to handle Ebola cases or how to properly protect herself while caring for Ebola patients. She alleges that when she asked her manager about how she should protect herself from the disease, her manager or supervisor simply printed off some information they found on Google.
Duncan had been at the hospital for a day and a half before he was moved to the ICU, but Pham’s suit claims that even though the hospital knew they had a suspected Ebola patient, they did not reach out to other organizations like the Center for Disease Control or other better-equipped facilities for assistance in caring for Duncan. Instead, Pham and other nurses were forced to rely on information they got from television and the Internet.
The suit claims the nurses taking care of Duncan were not provided with any professional guidance in what protective gear should be worn while working with him and as a result, they wore protective gear that left their hair and necks exposed. On Pham’s first day of working with Duncan, she says the hospital did not provide her with disposable scrubs or a change of clothing, forcing her to wear the scrubs she had worn while working home, creating the potential for her to carry the virus outside of the hospital. When nurses voiced concerns about whether or not they were being adequately protected, their worries were dismissed by other hospital staff.
In addition to the lack of protective gear, Pham says she and the other nurses were put at even greater risk due to the simple fact that the hospital’s ICU unit was not designed to be an isolation unit for infectious diseases and that she and the other nurses were not trained to dispose of hazardous material.
After Duncan passed away on October 8, 2014, Pham was told by hospital officials that she was at no risk of being exposed to the Ebola virus and it would be fine to be around friends and family without worrying about being a risk to them. Just three days after Duncan’s death, Pham went to the hospital with a fever and got the news that she had the Ebola virus.
While in the hospital’s care, she says the hospital, who was already facing public scrutiny for their handling of Duncan, was overly concerned with using Pham as a tool to improve their public image. Pham’s lawsuit also claims the hospital violated her privacy by releasing information about her condition without her permission and filmed her without consent for a video for the hospital’s YouTube channel.
Although Pham was successfully treated the virus and survived, she says her future is very uncertain. The long term effects of Ebola are not known and she was treated with experimental medications with unknown side effects. The ordeal has been very traumatic for Pham, who now doubts she will ever be able to go back to nursing, even though she loved being able to take care of people. The hospital disputes some of Pham’s allegations. The full text of Pham’s suit is available to read online.