The Nurse with Ebola Strikes Back

By: Blaydes Moore* | Staff Writer

Nina Pham, nurse that contracted Ebola in Dallas in September 2014Nina Pham, the twenty-six year old nurse who contracted Ebola in Dallas last year, is suing her employer.  She alleges that the hospital negligently failed to prepare her to handle an Ebola patient.  She states that she was assigned the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, like any other.  The Liberian man was diagnosed with the disease on September 30, 2014.  It was the first case of Ebola ever diagnosed in the United States.

Duncan most likely contracted the disease from Marthalene Williams.  Duncan assisted Williams’s family in transporting her by taxi to an Ebola treatment ward in Liberia on September 15.  He left Liberia for America four days later.  On September 25, Duncan visited the Emergency Department of the Texas health Presbyterian Hospital.  He was discharged at 3:37 AM the next day despite showing signs of Ebola.  He returned to the same hospital by ambulance after complaining of similar symptoms on September 28.  Duncan was assigned to Pham in the ICU on September 29.  Duncan succumbed to the disease nine days later.

Nina Pham began experiencing Ebola symptoms just two days later.  Pham has since recovered from the disease.

Pham’s complaint states she has filed suit “to hold Texas Health Resources accountable . . . and to send a message . . . that the safety of all patients and health care providers comes first.”

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Transmission Electron Micrograph of the Ebola Virus

The complaint states that THR focuses squarely on profitability rather than healthcare.  Pham claims that this misplaced effort resulted in an improper response to dangers imposed by Ebola’s arrival on American shores that ultimately led to her diagnosis.  She further claims that Dr. Varga, the chief medical officer for THR, “made numerous patently false statements to Congress, including falsely claiming the hospital staff was trained to manage Ebola.”  Pham essentially claims that THR ignored Ebola and did not take the proper steps to prepare its healthcare workers for the inevitable Ebola patient.

The complaint highlights elements of Duncan’s case – that he was initially misdiagnosed and that he should never have been sent home from his first visit to the hospital.  The complaint implies that Duncan could have been saved had the hospital employed better procedures and generally been more prepared.  It further alleges that hospital staff lied to Pham about her responsibilities regarding Duncan.  Perhaps most egregiously, the complaint states that when Pham asked her manager how to protect herself against the disease, someone Googled how to handle an Ebola patient and gave Pham the printout.

THR has stated that the hospital acted appropriately in regards to Pham’s assignment to Duncan.  A THR spokesperson has stated that THR and the hospital “utilized the most up to date guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control.”  The hospital contends that Pham’s case is a worker’s compensation claim.

Regardless of the outcome of Ms. Pham’s suit, hopefully America’s brush with Ebola has left the country more prepared for any similar event in the future.

 

*Blaydes Moore is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Clemson University.