After a second nurse from Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital in Dallas was diagnosed with Ebola on Wednesday, a national union said nurses are afraid and not receiving proper training or equipment to deal with the deadly virus.
Deborah Burger, a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United, said the Ebola diagnoses of the two nurses in Dallas were “truly heartbreaking, outrageous and totally preventable. We want to make sure it never happens again.”
Burger and at least 11,500 nurses across the nation, and as far away as Spain, participated in the press conference call Wednesday, and called for better training, equipment and resources to treat Ebola patients. In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, they asked President Obama to “invoke his executive authority” to order all U.S. hospitals to meet the highest “uniform, national standards and protocols” in order to “safely protect patients, all healthcare workers and the public.”
“We don’t have a national integrated health system,” Burger said during the press call. “We have a series of private corporate hospitals each responding in their own way. “
Several U.S. nurses said their hospitals were unprepared and that they had no protective equipment or training to deal with an Ebola patient, or any patient with a highly infectious disease.
El Paso nurse Yadira Cabrera said she and her coworkers received a 10-minute training, and nothing more. Cabrera did not name the hospital where she worked. “We need to get beyond business as usual,” she said. “Preparation is not a colored flyer or a number to call at [the Centers for Disease Control]. As RNs we need to be educated from triage to waste disposal.”
On Tuesday, nurses at Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital reached out to the union because they felt they were being blamed for the spread of the infectious disease. The nurses in that hospital were very angry, and they decided to contact us,” National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro told CNN Tuesday. The nurses are worried conditions at the hospital “may lead to infection of other nurses and patients,” Burger said.
The nurses, who are remaining anonymous for fear of retaliation, related a number of troubling accusations to the union about how the hospital treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States. “Mr. Duncan was left in an area where other patients were present,” Burger said. “The nurses wore generic gowns with three pairs of gloves with no taping and surgical masks.”
The gowns exposed their legs from the knees down and their necks. When the nurses complained, they were told to use medical tape and “wrap it around their necks,” according to Burger. “The nurses had to interact with Mr. Duncan with whatever protective equipment was available. … There was no protocol,” she said. Duncan was extremely ill with projectile vomiting and diarrhea, which the nurses had to clean up. “There was no one to pick up the hazardous waste as it piled up to the ceiling,” she said.
The nurses also had to continue treating other patients in the hospital. Those patients were later kept in isolation for one day, then moved to another section with other patients.
The hospital and the Centers for Disease Control received more criticism Wednesday as news spread that the second nurse diagnosed with Ebola, Amber Vinson, had been on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she showed symptoms of the disease.
By speaking out, nurses are not “fear mongering,“ Burger said. What they are advocating for is “the highest standards to eradicate the disease.” The U.S. should be setting an example on how to contain and eradicate ebola, she said. ”If I was writing for the newspapers I would say, ‘We need help.’”