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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Ebola and Health Care Workers: Look Back in Anger

In the aftermath of the first occupational infections of Ebola in U.S. history, legal and ethical questions remain -- along with the clear warning that fear almost triumphed over reason in the chaotic response to a deadly disease. Nina Pham, RN, one of the Dallas nurses infected with Ebola has filed a lawsuit against her employer full of damning allegations, including that she was not trained and adequately protected to deliver care to a patient infected with the deadly disease. Interestingly, she did not refuse to treat the patient, feeling she had an obligation to follow through and do her best. That says a lot about health care workers in general, who go into the fire if they think they can save a life.

Regardless of its outcome, the lawsuit highlights that a hospital is a dangerous work environment, says Lisa Baum, MA, occupational health and safety representative for the New York State Nurses Association in New York City.

“Nurses tend to put their patients’ needs first. They often will not speak up about dangerous conditions because of that,” she says. “I hope by doing this [Pham] sends a message to other nurses that their safety is as important as [that of] patients, and if their safety is not taken into consideration they will become the patient.”

The verdict in the case may set a precedent for employee health, as legal experts note that the suit seeks to go beyond the limits of workers’ compensation, a system designed to resolve injury claims outside of the courts. In addition, ethical issues raised by Ebola include quarantine of asymptomatic health care workers, which a federal bioethics panel recently called “morally wrong” and counterproductive.

For an analysis of these and other issues triggered by the outbreak, don't miss our special report in the May 2015 issue of Hospital Employee Health : Ebola and Health Care Workers: Look Back in Anger.