POLITICS

Nurses Blast Hospitals Over Ebola Safety

WASHINGTON –- A national nurses union said during a hastily-scheduled press conference Tuesday evening that hospitals are dropping the ball on safety for nurses caring for Ebola patients.

RoseAnn DeMoro, director of National Nurses United, which has been critical of hospitals' response to the Ebola crisis, said safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not been followed by the Dallas hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died last week.

“Our nurses are not protected, they’re not prepared to handle Ebola or any other pandemics,” DeMoro said. “The protocols that should have been in place in Dallas were not in place and are not in place anywhere in the United States, as far as we can tell.”

The CDC has said it would do more hands-on training with health care workers after officials confirmed over the weekend that Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, contracted Ebola after caring for Duncan.

Deborah Burger, co-director of the nurses union, read an account of hospital conditions she said had been given from nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian. The statement painted a portrait of carelessness, with nurses who interacted with Duncan wearing flimsy gowns and protective gear that left parts of their bodies exposed.

"Nurses had to interact with Mr. Duncan with whatever protective equipment was available at the time when he had copious amounts of diarrhea and vomiting, which produces a lot of contagious fluid," Burger said.

Texas Health Presbyterian spokesman Wendell Watson said in an emailed statement that patient and employee safety is the hospital's highest priority.

"We have numerous measures in place to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training and a 24-7 hotline and other mechanisms that allow for anonymous reporting," Watson said. "Our nursing staff is committed to providing quality, compassionate care, as we have always known, and as the world has seen firsthand in recent days. We will continue to review and respond to any concerns raised by our nurses and all employees."

DeMoro said her criticism was reserved for hospitals, not the government.

"When the director from the CDC in March said hospitals should prepare for possible pandemic of Ebola, and what's happened in the country is the hospitals essentially ignored that," DeMoro said.

In an email Tuesday evening after the nurses' conference called ended, the CDC said it initially sent a team of 10 public health professionals to Dallas when Duncan was admitted to the hospital, then an additional team of 16 to monitor the nurses who had come into contact with Duncan. The team is focusing partly on standardizing the personal protective equipment nurses wear. The CDC said Tuesday morning it was monitoring 76 people who had been involved in Duncan's care alongside Pham.

Burger said nurses were participating the press call, but wouldn't speak in order to protect their anonymity. The union declined to give information about how many nurses were participating in the call or any details about whether they had been in direct contact with Duncan.

More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola this year, almost all of them in West Africa. Texas Health Presbyterian said Tuesday afternoon that Pham is in good condition. The hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to include the hospital's statement.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
    Not as far as we know. <a href="http://www.who.int/features/2014/ebola-myths/en/" target="_blank">Ebola isn't contagious unti
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Not as far as we know. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients. It is not, from what we know of the science so far, an airborne virus. So contact with the patient's sweat, blood, vomit, feces or semen could cause infection, and the body remains infectious after death. Much of the spread in west Africa has been attributed to the initial distrust of medical staff, leaving many to be treated at home by loved ones, poorly equipped medics catching the disease from patients, and the traditional burial rites involving manually washing of the dead body. From what we know already, you can't catch it from the air, you can't catch it from food, you can't catch it from water.
  • 2 Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of March, the only direct flight to the region from the UK. In practice, anyone can just change planes somewhere else and get to Britain from Europe, north Africa, or the Middle East. And aid agencies say that flight cancellations are hampering efforts to get the disease under control, they rely on commercial flights to get to the infected regions. Liberia's information minister, Lewis Brown, told the Telegraph this week that BA was putting more people in danger. "We need as many airlines coming in to this region as possible, because the cost of bringing in supplies and aid workers is becoming prohibitive," he told the Telegraph. "There just aren't enough seats on the planes. I can understand BA's initial reaction back in August, but they must remember this is a global fight now, not just a west African one, and we can't just be shut out." Christopher Stokes, director of MSF in Brussels, agreed: “Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.”
  • 3 Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals <i>want</i> to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals want to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your flight, feel a bit hot, and you definitely don't want to be sent to an isolation booth for days and have to miss your flight. Take an ibuprofen and you can lower your temperature enough to get past the scanners. And if you suspect you have Ebola, you might be desperate to leave, seeing how much better the treatment success has been in western nations. And experts have warned that you cannot expect people to be honest about who they have had contact with. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas, told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with the disease, but had in fact visited someone in the late stages of the virus, though he said he believed it was malaria. The extra screening that the US implemented since his death probably wouldn't have singled out Duncan when he arrived from hard-hit Liberia last month, because he had no symptoms while travelling.
  • 4 Border staff should stop people coming in to the country who are at risk
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly dia
    LEON NEAL via Getty Images
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly diagnose a complex disease, and spot it in the millions of people who come through British transport hubs. Public Health England has provided UK Border Force with advice on the assessment of an unwell patient on entry to UK, but they can't be expected to check everyone.
  • 5 Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Afric
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Africa will have crossed through Europe, so infected people could be coming from practically anywhere, not just flights directly from those countries. This would require the UK to screen every returning traveller, as people could return to the UK from an affected country through any port of entry. This would be huge numbers of low risk people, at vast, vast expense.
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