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First U.S. Nurse to Contract Ebola Sues Texas Health Resources

Wallis, Laura

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: June 2015 - Volume 115 - Issue 6 - p 16
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000466302.77895.c5
In the News
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Negligence, invasion of privacy, and fraud are among the causes of action.

Laura Wallis

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Nina Pham, the first person to contract the Ebola virus on U.S. soil, filed a lawsuit against her employer, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, in March (read her original petition to the District Court of Dallas County, Texas, here: http://bit.ly/1KobrYg). A nurse in the ICU, Pham was assigned to care for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan. The story, by now, is well known. After Duncan arrived in Dallas from Liberia on September 20, 2014, he became ill, visited the ED at Presbyterian on the 25th, and was released. He returned on the 28th, when Ebola was suspected and ultimately confirmed. In the end, Duncan did not survive, and two nurses, Pham and Amber Vinson, contracted the virus. Both received immediate treatment—Pham was eventually transferred to the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland—and have recovered.

At the time Pham's infection became public knowledge, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated that a breach of protocol must have been responsible; health care leaders across the country countered, blaming the CDC itself for not providing them with adequate protocols. Pham's lawsuit lays the blame on Presbyterian, alleging that there was no Ebola protocol at all at the hospital. In fact, the lawsuit claims, the only guidance Pham received for protecting herself came from information her supervisor found on a Google search.

Another contention is that Pham's name, likeness, and even a video made of her were used without her permission for the hospital's public relations campaign. Although the hospital's counsel maintains that the facility had her consent, her lawyer, Charla Aldous, claims that it was obtained on the same day it was determined she was too sick to be competent to make decisions about her own care, which calls into question its validity.

Pham has not yet returned to work. She has ongoing symptoms, such as fatigue and hair loss, as well as emotional fallout and what she believes to be the stigma of having been an “Ebola nurse.”

Aldous says that Pham hopes nurses across the country will gain from her experience: “Corporate entities controlling the pocketbook need to understand that nurses have to be protected. They are frontline caregivers and need proper gear and training to protect themselves.”—Laura Wallis

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