A Texas nurse who contracted Ebola after treating a patient filed a lawsuit Monday claiming that the hospital where she worked ignored the dangers of the virus.
Nina Pham, 26, was the first nurse to treat Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted Ebola in Liberia, then traveled to Dallas, where he was diagnosed. Pham was diagnosed Oct. 11, three days after Duncan died.
Pham filed the lawsuit against Texas Health Resources, which owns Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. The suit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages against the company. It claims that the hospital failed to prepare.
"The sum total of the information Nina was provided to protect herself before taking on her patient was what her manager 'Googled' and printed out from the Internet," the lawsuit says. It also alleges that Pham was told that the protective gear she wore while treating Duncan was safe, and that she was at "no risk" of contracting the disease.
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The lawsuit — illustrated with an ominous microscope image of the virus on its first page — also says that the hospital used Pham as a "PR tool" in the face of public scrutiny, and lied that her condition was improving when medical reports told a different story.
In one instance, the lawsuit says that a hospital staffer secretly filmed Pham with a GoPro camera in her hospital room, violating her privacy.
Wendell Watson, the director of public relations for Texas Health Resources, said in a statement that the organization hopes "constructive dialogue" will lead to a resolution. "Nina Pham bravely served Texas Health Dallas during a most difficult time. We continue to support and wish the best for her," the statement said.
Pham was eventually transferred to a National Institutes of Health hospital in Maryland. She was declared free of the virus two weeks after diagnosis, was discharged to cheers and got a hug from the president. Still, the lawsuit says that "Ebola nurse" stigma will follow her, making for an uncertain professional future.
"She doubts whether she can ever be a critical care nurse again," the lawsuit says. It also says that her mental health is compromised.
Pham said in a statement that she hopes the suit "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."
— Elisha Fieldstadt