“I Can No Longer Defend My Hospital”: Dallas Nurse Says Texas Health Presbyterian Unprepared for Ebola

A Dallas nurse who cared for a co-worker who contracted the Ebola virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said the facility was unprepared to fight the disease and she would “do anything” to avoid being treated there if she were ever to fall ill with the potentially deadly virus.

“I can no longer defend my hospital,” Briana Aguirre said Thursday on NBC's “Today" show.

Aguirre claims that before Thomas Eric Duncan arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian nursing staff had not been trained in how to treat an Ebola patient beyond being offered an “optional seminar.”

“We never talked about Ebola and we probably should have,” Aguirre said, adding that staff was “never told what to look for.”

Aguirre did not treat Duncan, who died on Oct. 8. But she said that co-workers told her that he was put in an area with up to seven other patients and it took three hours before the hospital first contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She called the situation a "chaotic scene."

"Our infectious disease department was contacted to ask, what is our protocol. And their answer was, we don’t know. We’re going to have to call you back,” she said.

She questioned why even two weeks into the Ebola crisis in Dallas protective clothing staff used still left parts of her neck uncovered.

She said that the hospital should have called in more help early on and “should have known that it was getting out of hand.”

“I watched them violate basic principles of nursing care, of medical care,” she said.

Criticism of the hospital has intensified since nurses Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson tested positive for the virus after caring for Duncan.  Pham is said to be in good condition at Texas Presbyterian Hospital and Vinson was transported Wednesday to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

Earlier this week, a national nurse’s union detailed similar claims to Aguirre's of a lack of preparation and protocols in place at Texas Presbyterian Hospital to confront Ebola.

Texas Health Presbyterian referred NBC to a detailed statement it issued early Thursday in response to claims by the nurse’s group.

The hospital said that it had followed CDC recommendations at the time for appropriate protective equipment, "sought additional guidance and clarity" then followed updated CDC guidelines.

“When the CDC recommended that nurses wear isolation suits, the nurses raised questions and concerns about the fact that the skin on their neck was exposed,” the statement said. “The CDC recommended that they pinch and tape the necks of the gown. Because our nurses continued to be concerned, particularly about removing the tape, we ordered hoods.”

The statement also said that Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, was "moved directly to a private room and placed in isolation" after he returned to the hospital in an ambulance. The hospital said it went "above and beyond CDC recommendations" for handling hazardous waste. 

Meanwhile, the hospital’s chief clinical officer Dr. Daniel Varga testified by video conference before a House hearing later Thursday that "we made mistakes" when Duncan first arrived at the hospital's emergency room.

Varga said "we are deeply sorry" for having misdiagnosed Duncan. But he said that doctors and nurses followed all CDC guidelines.

"The hospital followed all CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services recommendations in an effort to ensure the safety of patients, hospital staff, volunteers, nurses, physicians and visitors," Varga said.

He told Congress it was not clear how the nurses contracted Ebola.

Aguirre, asked whether she would seek treatment at her own hospital should she contract Ebola, told "Today" she feared she would still be at risk. She said she “would do anything to refuse to go there.”

Aguirre, who provided care for Pham, noted that Texas Health Presbyterian had been considered a “premier” facility.

“I just don’t think that any facility in this country is prepared,” she said.

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