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Ebola nurse Nina Pham sues Texas Health Resources

Pham said Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and its parent company failed her while treating Thomas Duncan.
Dallas nurse Nina Pham talked with WFAA medical reporter Janet St. James about her recovery from Ebola.

DALLAS – Four months after she recovered from Ebola, nurse Nina Pham is looking to recover damages. On Monday, she and her attorney, Charla Aldous, have filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages.

"I find it just unbelievable that they would expose their nurses to that type of danger," Aldous said.

The lawsuit filed against Texas Health Resources Monday alleges gross negligence, deception, and invasion of privacy.

ID=17218253Pham is one of two Texas Health Presbyterian nurses who contracted Ebola while caring from Thomas Duncan, who died at the hospital after contracting the deadly disease in his native Liberia.

The lawsuit alleges Pham did not get the training or the equipment she needed to properly protect herself last fall when she was assigned to care for Duncan. She did not volunteer, as previously reported, to be one of the nurses responsible for his care.

ID=20220383According to the lawsuit, "Nina was left to determine – on her own – what personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear and how to don, doff, and wear it. Based on what she could learn from the Internet, on the first day she cared for Mr. Duncan, Nina put on a regular isolation gown covering her front and back, double gloves, a surgical mask with plastic shield and double booties. Importantly, Nina's neck and hair remained exposed. Nina was not even provided disposable scrubs or a change of clothes. She had to wear the scrubs she wore that first day home, taking out of the hospital clothing that was potentially carrying the virus."

Adding insult to injury, she says, "Nina felt violated," by Texas Health Resources, the parent company of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Pham worked. The lawsuit accuses THR of violating her privacy and deceiving her by creating a public relations blitz around her.

"It was obvious THR was putting quotes out there to try to make their hospital look good," Aldous said, referring to what she described as a public relations team working to do damage control for the hospital as the Ebola crisis unfolded.

ID=24237345Aldous alleges the PR team was busy drafting quotes on behalf of Pham, and then running the media releases by her at an extraordinarily inopportune time.

"I just find that offensive. She is in there fighting for her life, and the last thing she should be thinking about are PR quotes for Presbyterian and THR," the lawyer said.

Particularly irksome to Aldous was the hospital room video shot by other healthcare workers who conversed with her client. Pham claims she didn't know that video was going to be released to the outside world.

Aldous acknowledges that Pham signed off on a general consent form, but plans to explain in court that Pham didn't sign up to be part of a PR blitz for the hospital as she was struggling to stay alive.

"I think it's a violation for THR in any manner try to use her and what happened to her to try to benefit the hospital, when the very reason she was in that situation is they didn't protect her to begin with," Aldous said.

Texas Health Resources issued this statement to its employees on Monday night:

As you have likely seen, a lawyer representing Nina Pham has officially filed litigation against THR. Nina and so many others of you served very bravely during a most difficult time as we all struggled to deal with the first case of Ebola to arrive in a U.S. hospital's emergency room. Texas Health Resources values our strong culture of caring and compassion, and we view all employees as part of our family. That's why we have continued to support Nina both during and after her illness, and it's why she is still a member of our team. As distressing as the lawsuit is to us, we remain optimistic that we can resolve this matter with Nina.

The media are reporting a number of allegations in the lawsuit, many of which have been addressed in the past. However, we feel it is important to clarify two new points that have been raised:

1) Dr. Daniel Varga's testimony before Congress was factual and accurate, and any implication to the contrary is both false and irresponsible. We stand behind Dr. Varga's statements.

2) THR was sensitive to Nina's privacy, and we adhered to HIPAA rules in determining what information to share publicly. We had Nina's consent to share the information about her that was released.

Thank you for your professionalism, and thank you for your commitment to THR.

A statement released on behalf of Nina Pham reads:

"I was hoping that THR would be more open and honest about everything that happened at the hospital, and the things they didn't do that led to me getting infected with Ebola. But that didn't happen and I felt I was left with no choice but to turn to the courts for help. The fact is, I'm facing a number of issues with regard to my health and my career and the lawsuit provides a way to address them. But more importantly, it will help uncover the truth of what happened, and educate all health care providers and administrators about ways to be better prepared for the next public health emergency. I particularly want to express my continued sympathy to the family of Mr. Duncan, as it was my privilege to care for him. I also want to acknowledge my fellow nurses, and the many friends, family and strangers for their ongoing concern and support."

The case is filed in Dallas County district court. It asks for actual, compensatory, consequential, exemplary, and punitive damages.

Pham was initially treated at Texas Health Presbyterian, but was later taken to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, five days after her diagnosis.

Two nurses who treated Duncan contracted Ebola. Amber Vinson was diagnosed with the deadly disease just days after Pham. Both women recovered.

MORE: Stories about Ebola

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