The first person infected with Ebola in the United States, nurse Nina Pham, said she was used for publicity purposes by her hospital, which also invaded her privacy and did not properly train her, the Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday.
Pham, 26, told the newspaper that chaos hit the Dallas hospital when it admitted Thomas Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States after he contracted it in Liberia. Nurses were ill prepared and received little guidance on how to treat Ebola or protect themselves, she said.
“I wanted to believe that they would have my back and take care of me, but they just haven’t risen to the occasion,” Pham told The Dallas Morning News in an exclusive interview published in its Sunday edition.
Duncan was put into isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in late September and died less than two weeks later. The hospital has been criticized for mishandling Duncan’s case when he first went to the emergency room on Sept. 25 with a fever of 103 degrees and abdominal pain. For reasons not entirely clear, hospital staff sent him home despite knowing that he had recently traveled from Ebola-stricken Liberia.
Pham, who became infected while caring for him, was treated at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, where she received experimental drugs and recovered from the virus.
Now, Pham is planning to sue the Dallas hospital’s parent company, Texas Health Resources, the paper said. The company has already reached a settlement with Duncan’s family.
The hospital has not addressed details of Pham’s allegations, but a spokesman issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying: “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 dialog can resolve this matter.”
Lack of safety equipment, privacy concerns
Pham said nurses initially did not wear hazmat suits when treating Duncan and went in with double gloves taped to double gowns, double booties and face shields. Pham said her neck area was exposed, the newspaper reported.
Hazmat suits came a few days later but meanwhile, medical waste piled up in a hospital room because maintenance staff would not collect it. “We were mopping floors with bleach and doing janitorial work and dealing with hazardous, lethal waste,” Pham told the paper.
Pham also said the hospital did not respect her right to privacy. In one instance, she was videotaped speaking to a doctor and the video was released to the media. Pham said it was done without her permission. Charla Aldous, Pham’s attorney told the paper the hospital “used Nina as a PR pawn.”
Months after being cured, Pham said she is still recovering from the effects of Ebola and has been plagued with nightmares, body aches and hair loss. She has not yet returned to work, her lawyer told ABC News, adding that it’s not clear “if she’ll ever be a nurse again.”
‘We don’t want nurses to turn into patients’
Through the lawsuit against the hospital’s parent company, Pham will be be seeking unspecified damages for the physical and mental pain she has endured throughout this ordeal, as well as to compensate for losses to future earnings and medical expenses.
She told the newspaper that she wants to “make hospitals and big corporations realize that nurses and health care workers, especially frontline people, are important. And we don’t want nurses to start turning into patients.”
“The fact is, I’m facing a number of issues with regard to my health and my career and the lawsuit provides a way to address them,” Pham said in a statement today. “But more importantly, it will help uncover the truth of what happened, and educate all health care providers and administrators about ways to be better prepared for the next public health emergency.”
A nationwide survey conducted at the height of the U.S. Ebola crisis in October 2014 found that many nurses were dangerously unprepared to safely work with an Ebola patient. In the survey, 76 percent of nurses said their hospital still hadn’t communicated to them an official policy on admitting potential patients with Ebola, even though federal health authorities had advised them to do so. The survey also found that 37 percent of nurses felt their hospital had insufficient supplies for containing the deadly virus, including face shields and goggles or fluid-resistant gowns.