Nurse who survived Ebola settles with hospital system
Dallas — A nurse who contracted Ebola two years ago while caring for the first person to be diagnosed in the U.S. with the deadly disease settled a lawsuit Monday against the parent company of the Dallas hospital where she worked.
Attorneys for Nina Pham announced the settlement with Texas Health Resources. They and the company said in a joint statement that terms will not be disclosed.
Pham contracted Ebola in the fall of 2014 while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Duncan, who contracted Ebola in his native Liberia and became ill during a trip to the U.S., died. Pham, at the time an intensive care unit nurse, and another Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola survived.
In her lawsuit against the hospital’s parent company, Pham said that the “sum total” of information she was given to protect herself after being told she would be treating a patient suspected of having Ebola was “what her manager ‘Googled’ and printed out from the Internet.” She said that the day after she got that information, the patient tested positive for the disease.
The lawsuit called Pham “a casualty of a hospital system’s failure to prepare for a known and impending medical crisis.”
The lawsuit described a chaotic situation at the hospital, in which nurses scrambled to decide what kind of personal protective equipment to wear “without any formal guidance or training” from their supervisors. Texas Health Resources “wholly failed to ensure that appropriate policies, procedures, and equipment were in place,” the lawsuit alleged.
Clear drop cloths were taped to the ceiling and walls of the hallway to create a makeshift containment facility, nurses had to dispose of hazardous waste, which they weren’t trained to do, and hazardous material placed in the room next to Duncan’s was allowed to pile up, the lawsuit alleged.
On the first day Pham treated Duncan, when Ebola was suspected but not yet diagnosed, she wore a regular isolation gown, double gloves, a surgical mask with a plastic shield and double booties. The lawsuit said her hair and neck were exposed and that she wasn’t given a change of clothes to wear home, so she went home in the scrubs she wore while treating Duncan.
After his diagnosis, nurses put on hazmat suits with double gloves and added “chemo gloves” and taped them to the suit. They also added a personal respirator they covered with a gown. These decisions, the lawsuit said, were made without any formal guidance or training by supervisors.
The lawsuit said that after Duncan died, Pham was told that what she had worn was safe and that she had no risk of contracting Ebola. Confident in what hospital officials had told her, she spent time with friends and family. The lawsuit said that she began feeling ill two days after Duncan died. The next day she drove herself to the hospital and was diagnosed with Ebola.
In a response to the lawsuit, the hospital operator denied allegations of poor training and improper preparation.
Pham eventually was transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland for treatment and recovered.
The lawsuit said, though, that she worried about her long-term health and doubted she’d ever return to being a critical care nurse again because of the stress and anxiety of the trauma she experienced and the “fear and stigma” that follow her.