War of words adds to Texas hos­pi­tal woes

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Adam Ruben­fire

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.

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