DALLAS (CN) – The Texas nurse who contracted Ebola from the first domestic case of the disease has sued her employer, claiming it gave her inadequate training and protective equipment and used her as a “PR pawn.”
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 mishandling 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 admitting him 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 sued Texas Health Resources on Monday in Dallas County Court. She claims 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 was hoping that THR would be more open and honest about everything that happened at the hospital, and the things they didn’t do that led to me getting infected with Ebola,” Pham said in a statement Monday. “But that didn’t happen and I felt I was left with no choice but to turn to the courts for help. 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.”
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.
Her 36-page lawsuit claims nurses “had no choice but to use the Internet” because the hospital failed to provide appropriate protective equipment or instructions on how to use it.
“Importantly, Nina’s neck and hair remained exposed,” the complaint states. “Nina was not even provided disposable scrubs or a change of clothes. She had to wear the scrubs she wore that first day home, taking out of the hospital clothing that was potentially carrying the virus.”
Pham said, “The only thing I knew about Ebola, I learned in nursing school” six years earlier. Nurses allegedly were given hazardous materials suits only after asking for them for days.
“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 told the Dallas Morning News. “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.
Pham said she was the only nurse who cared for Duncan his first day in the intensive care unit, describing him as “very appreciative and nice” to her.
She claims the hospital ignored her request to release no information about her when she became sick. She says that a video of her in a hospital bed at Presbyterian, recorded by a doctor, was 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, accused the hospital of using her client “as a PR pawn.”
“THR quickly learned that Nina and her dog Bentley had enormous public support and sympathy,” the complaint states. “So THR began trying to use Nina as a PR tool to save its plummeting image. While Nina laid in isolation, heavily medicated and facing a potentially gruesome death, THR had its PR department calling Nina. The PR Department was trying to release information and use Nina as part of its THR-corporate-driven #PresbyProud campaign.”
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 for 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, 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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