War of words adds to Texas hospital woes
As concern about the adequacy of U.S. hospital training and protective measures to safely treat Ebola patients mounts, the Dallas hospital at the center of the storm and a national union that represents nurses engaged in an angry war of words late last week, a reflection of the fear that now grips many frontline healthcare workers.
After National Nurses United accused Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas of carelessness in protecting staff treating its first Ebola patient, the hospital released a strongly worded statement accusing “external organizations” of using the crisis to gain attention for their own agendas. “Third parties who don’t know our hospital, our employees and who were not present when the events occurred are seeking to exploit a national crisis by inserting themselves into an already challenging situation,” the statement said.
NNU claims to represent 185,000 registered nurses across the country, including 13,000 in 11 states that have signed collective bargaining agreements. Texas is one of those states.
An ongoing online survey released by the group last week reported that 80% of the 1,400 RNs at 250 hospitals who responded to the survey say their hospitals have failed to communicate isolation policies for fighting dangerous infectious diseases; 85% say their hospital has not provided education that allows nurses to interact and ask questions; and one-third say their hospital does not have adequate protective equipment.
Deborah Burger, a co-president of the union, also attacked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for failing to mandate a specific level of infection protection for workers, rather than leaving it up to hospitals to choose their approach based on guidelines. “We need to have a strict protocol that is not optional,” Burger said.
The hospital chain, after hiring public relations crisis management firm Burson-Marsteller, also attacked the media for failing to dispel rumors about the facility and its staff. “Many of the comments we have seen or heard in the media are only loosely based on fact, but are often out-of-context and sensationalized,” the statement said. “Others are completely inaccurate.”
NNU released a statement from an anonymous group of nurses earlier in the week claiming that the hospital had not adequately educated its employees on how to protect themselves while treating the Ebola patient. They also alleged the hospital did not have enough personal protection equipment in supply and allowed providers who treated 42-year-old Thomas Eric Duncan, the first and so far only U.S. Ebola patient to die, to treat other patients.
The hospital, which has since had two of its nurses contract the disease and sent to specialized isolation units, denied allegations that it put its staff at risk.
Texas Health Resources, the system that owns the hospital, hired the crisis management PR firm after repeated communication missteps in the case. It has publicly admitted it made mistakes and is emphasizing its non-retaliation policy to encourage hospital workers to report any safety lapses to supervisors. “Texas Health Dallas remains a safe place for employees and patients,” the statement said.