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Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ebola-Infected Nurse Will Sue Hospital

DALLAS (CN) - The Texas nurse who contracted Ebola from the first domestic case of the disease will sue her employer, claiming it gave her inadequate training and protective equipment.

Nina Pham, 26, tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 11, 2014, after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, of Liberia, who died of Ebola three days earlier at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

The hospital's corporate parent, Texas Health Resources, apologized to a U.S. House committee for its mishandling of the case , which resulted in Pham and nurse Amber Vinson being infected.

The hospital also faced harsh public criticism for botching Duncan's initial diagnosis and sending him away from the emergency room with only antibiotics before admitted during a second visit.

The case set off a month-long public health crisis in North Texas that involved monitoring more than 100 possible contacts, sterilization of several locations and school closures.

Pham last week said she will sue Texas Health Resources in Dallas County Court. She told the Dallas Morning News that lack of training and proper equipment and violations of her privacy during her isolation and treatment turned her into "a symbol of corporate neglect - a casualty of a hospital system's failure to prepare for a known and impending medical crisis."

"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 said, according to the Morning News's Feb. 28 story.

Hospital officials have yet to publicly address Pham's allegations.

"Nina Pham bravely served Texas Health Dallas during a most difficult time," Texas Health Resources spokesman Wendell Watson said Sunday. "We continue to support and wish the best for her, and we remain optimistic that constructive dialogue can resolve this matter."

Pham said the extent of her Ebola training at the hospital was a printout of guidelines a supervisor found on the Internet.

She said "the only thing I knew about Ebola, I learned in nursing school" six years earlier. Nurses allegedly were given hazardous materials suits after days of asking for them.

"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?"

Pham said she "was the last person besides Mr. Duncan to find out he was positive" for Ebola.

"You'd think the primary nurse would be the first to know," she said.

She claims the hospital ignored her request to release no information about her. A video of Pham in her hospital bed at Presbyterian recorded by a doctor was allegedly released without her permission.

"I wanted to protect my privacy, and I asked several times ... to put be as 'no info' or at least change my name to Jane Doe," Pham said. "I don't think that ever happened."

Pham's attorney, Charla Aldous in Dallas, accuses the hospital of using her client "as a PR pawn."

Pham said that since her recovery, she has anxiety about the long-term effects of Ebola and the experimental drugs she was given. Her hair has been falling out.

"I don't know if having children could be affected by this, but that's something I worry about," Pham told the Morning News. "Just the uncertainty of it all. And if I do have a health problem in the future, is it related to Ebola or is it something else?

In November, Texas Health Resources settled claims with Duncan's family over his misdiagnosis. Financial terms were not disclosed, but family attorney Les Weisbrod, with Miller Weisbrod in Dallas, said the settlement was better than what the Duncans could have received in court because of Texas' caps on medical malpractice claims .

Damages for individual defendants are capped at $250,000 and gross negligence must be proven - a higher standard than ordinary negligence.

Louis Troh, Duncan's fiancée, for whom he traveled to Dallas to marry, was not a party to the settlement because she is not a member of the family.

The family will not be charged for Duncan's care, under the terms of the settlement.

Pham remains on paid leave from Presbyterian, Aldous told Courthouse News on Sunday.

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