Was CDC Too Quick To Blame Dallas Nurses In Care Of Ebola Patient? It was initially implied that nurses made many of the errors in the handling of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Further scrutiny shows they were not at fault.
NPR logo

Was CDC Too Quick To Blame Dallas Nurses In Care Of Ebola Patient?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/358574357/358631330" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Was CDC Too Quick To Blame Dallas Nurses In Care Of Ebola Patient?

Was CDC Too Quick To Blame Dallas Nurses In Care Of Ebola Patient?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/358574357/358631330" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We mentioned the good news about the two nurses who contracted Ebola in Dallas - Nina Pham was discharged today from an NIH Hospital in Maryland, free of the virus. Her colleague, Amber Vinson, is also said to be Ebola free but she's still hospitalized in Atlanta. Their progress is being cheered but NPR's Wade Goodwyn says nurses around the country are still smarting, feeling that their profession was unfairly blamed for the errors in Dallas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The Monday-morning quarterbacking began in the very first press conference, when health officials conceded Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan had been to Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas before. He'd been misdiagnosed and released. It was acknowledged that Duncan had told the ER nurse during that first visit that he'd just come from Africa. But then it was implied the nurse screwed it up. Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ANTHONY FAUCI: The travel history was taken but it wasn't communicated to the people who were making the decision. They dropped the ball but hopefully this'll never happen again.

GOODWYN: But according to Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer at Presbyterian's Hospital System that wasn't true. In fact, the nurse did put the information about Duncan's travel from Africa into the doctor's chart. He just didn't see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL VARGA: We had that piece of information in the electronic health record. It was there to be found.

GOODWYN: So it certainly wasn't the nurses but it happened again when it was announced nurse Nina Pham had contracted Ebola from Duncan. CDC Director Tom Friedan speculated she'd infected herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM FRIEDAN: There was a breach in protocol and that breach in protocol resulted in this infection. When you have potentially soiled or contaminated gloves or mask or other things to remove those without any risk of any contaminated material touching you is critically important and not easy to do right.

GOODWYN: In fact, it's just as likely that nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were contaminated while they cared for Duncan. Why? Because for the first two days, Presbyterian's medical staff were asked to treat the extremely sick and Ebola effusive patient without the protection of the fully hooded hazmat suits the hospital had on hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRIEDAN: I want to clarify something I said yesterday.

GOODWYN: The next day, CDC Director Tom Friedan said he'd gotten an earful from nurses around the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRIEDAN: Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the health care worker. And I'm sorry if that was the impression given. That was certainly not my intention.

DEBORAH BURGER: Well, see the thing is is that you have to look at the culture of most hospitals.

GOODWYN: Deborah Burger has been a registered nurse for 43 years and is the president of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the country. As the Ebola crisis deepened in Dallas, they raised the alarm that hospitals across the country were not prepared to cope with the deadly virus and they came to the defense of the critical care nurses who'd cared for Thomas Eric Duncan.

BURGER: Whenever they are trying to assign blame it always ends up down at the nurses level or other health care worker. That is not unusual for that to happen. So we weren't surprised. We were just angry.

GOODWYN: Even after apologizing, CDC director Tom Friedan nevertheless implicated a nurse again. When Presbyterian Hospital nurse Amber Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola, she'd just returned from a trip to Ohio on a passenger jet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRIEDAN: She was in a group of individuals known to have exposure to Ebola. She should not of traveled on a commercial airline.

GOODWYN: But the part CDC Director Friedan left out was that Amber Vinson had been in regular contact with the hospital and CDC officials and was given permission to fly back to Dallas. When that little tidbit came to light, it put the spotlight right back on the hospital and the CDC. But the damage was done. The brave young nurse is said to be furious at how she's been vilified and has hired a lawyer. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.