On Tuesday, nurses at Presbyterian Hospital voiced their complaints for the first time -- in so many words. Fearful of ramifications in the workplace, nurses anonymously sent their allegations to National Nurses United, where their comments were read aloud by spokesperson Deborah Burger.
The nurses silently listened in on the press teleconference, their identities unknown. Every nurse on the call had some tie to or close knowledge of Thomas Eric Duncan's care. And what they allege went wrong is a dramatic turn from the significantly rosier picture painted by Texas Health Resources.
The chain of events described by several nurses on Tuesday indicates that the list of possibly exposed individuals could be exponentially higher than we previously thought. Nurses report that despite repeated requests to isolate Duncan, he remained in an open area of the hospital for several hours before being sequestered.
When nurses took his lab samples, the samples traveled "without being specifically sealed and hand delivered. The result is that the entire tube system ... was potentially contaminated," said Burger in the teleconference, according to the LA Times.
Presbyterian nurses also allege they were not properly outfitted to protect themselves from exposure. The nurses say they did not wear surgical booties, while gloves and gowns were only loosely tied. Nurses say the skin around their necks and face close to their mouth was exposed, and that hazardous waste was left to pile up inside the hospital. Burger confirms that nurses who cared for Duncan were allowed to interact and continue normal duties with other patients, and full shield masks were not required for three days after Duncan's treatment began.
The CDC has said that Nurse Nina Pham may have contracted the virus through some mistake in hospital safety protocol, implicitly by her own mishap. Now, Presbyterian nurses are responding with frustration, saying the fault does not lie with Pham's alleged sloppiness, but rather with poor hospital operating procedures.
"The protocols that should have been in place in Dallas were not in place, and that those protocols are not in place anywhere in the United States as far as we can tell," said RoseAnn DeMoro of National Nurses United, according to CNN. "We're deeply alarmed."
The National Nurses United has sent a letter to the White House, Congress, and governors across the country to express their concern in nurses' safety. "In the end, the nurses strongly feel unsupported, unprepared, deserted and lied to in preparing for this," said Burger in a follow-up press conference on Wednesday.
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