A lawsuit by Nina Pham, RN, against Texas Health Resources (THR) includes some explosive allegations regarding her occupational Ebola infection after caring for an infected patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas in early October 2014.
In addition to a general statement about hoping to resolve the matter with Pham, THR has denied at least two specific allegations in the suit. In an email to employees, CEO Barclay Berdan disputed that THR had invaded Pham’s privacy, saying the nurse gave consent for the public release of details about her case that included a video of her in a hospital bed. THR also strongly denied the “false and irresponsible” allegation that one of its leading doctors was untruthful in Congressional testimony, according to published reports.1
The allegations against THR, corporate owner of Texas Health Presbyterian, include the following, according to a March 2, 2015 “Plaintiff’s Original Petition” field by the Aldous law firm in Dallas.2
• Nurse Pham did not volunteer to treat the country’s first Ebola patient.
When Pham arrived for her regular shift in the hospital’s intensive care unit, the lawsuit alleges, she was informed that she would be caring for patient Thomas Eric Duncan. She did not volunteer to be his nurse, and the lawsuit claims that the hospital promoted a false story of her heroically volunteering to encourage favorable media coverage. She did not refuse because she felt an obligation to treat the patient assigned to her.
“But the myth perpetuated by THR that this was a ‘volunteer’ health care team obscures the dark reality: Nina was put in the position to take care of Mr. Duncan without any prior knowledge of the risks, dangers, or any training. As with any patient, a nurse can attempt to refuse an assignment, but Nina was not inclined to do that because she saw critical care nursing as a calling, and she had a job to do,” the lawsuit states. “Unfortunately, THR was sending her to do it without the necessary qualifications or protections to do it safely.”
• Pham was misled about Duncan’s condition and the risk of infection.
“She was told Mr. Duncan was in stable condition and could use the bathroom by himself. She was told that she would not have to go in the patient’s room much and could just monitor him remotely, all of which turned out to be untrue,” the lawsuit says. (Duncan died in the hospital of Ebola on Oct. 8, 2014.)
• Pham was completely unprepared to treat an Ebola patient.
“She had never been trained to handle infectious diseases, never been told anything about Ebola, how to treat Ebola, or how to protect herself as a nurse treating an Ebola patient,” the lawsuit alleges. “The hospital had never given her any in-services, training or guidance about Ebola. All Nina knew about Ebola is what she had heard on the television about the deadly outbreak in West Africa.”
• The hospital failed to provide even some of the most basic supplies.
“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,” the lawsuit claims. Noting that Ebola caregivers in West Africa wear full “moon suits,” the lawsuit says, “Here, at THR’s hospital, the health care providers were given only basic coverings that left them exposed to the highly contagious disease. Despite the claims about our advanced healthcare system, ultimately none of it was brought to bear to protect the healthcare providers here. Nina Pham would have been better off treating Mr. Duncan in a Liberian Ebola center than in THR’s signature hospital.”
• The hospital defied Pham’s wishes to remain anonymous and violated her privacy.
On her way to her hospital’s emergency department with possible Ebola symptoms, Pham called the hospital and asked to be registered as a “no information” patient, a method used to protect a patient’s privacy so the patient’s name is not visible to others accessing the electronic health record. The strategy often is used for celebrities or others whose records might be of special interest.
Despite her request, severe illness, and the effects of multiple medications, the public relations department of the hospital’s parent company called Pham repeatedly, according to the lawsuit. The hospital failed to honor her request for anonymity, and her record was “grossly and inappropriately accessed by dozens of people throughout the THR system,” the lawsuit claims. On the day the lawsuit was filed, THR sent a letter to employees saying it had Pham’s consent to share the information about her that was released.
• Was Pham a PR pawn?
The lawsuit alleges that THR invaded Pham’s privacy repeatedly and videotaped her without her consent on the day she was to be discharged for continuing treatment at an NIH hospital.
“THR, through its agents, intentionally intruded on Nina’s solitude, seclusion and private affairs when Nina was in a life-or-death situation. It would be highly offensive to a reasonable person that a patient, like Nina, would be in isolation with a highly communicable and lethal virus, and yet here THR was disclosing highly personal medical information about her, filming her without her informed consent, and generally attempting to use her for purposes of THR’s public relations,” the suit alleges.
- Emily, J. Texas Health responds to two claims in Ebola nurse Nina Pham’s suit. Dallas Morning News March 3, 2015: http://bit.ly/1KkDLi1
- Aldous CG, Walker BR, Long HL. Aldous Law Firm. Nina Pham, plaintiff v. Texas Health Resources Inc., defendant. In the District Court of Dallas County, TX. Plaintiff’s Original Petition. March 2, 2015:1-36.