A female nurse in Dallas was somehow infected with the Ebola virus while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who came to the U.S. infected with the disease. The big question public health officials — and the public — is asking is: How did this happen? On Sunday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said that "clearly there was a breach in protocol" at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Some nurses and infectious-disease experts say Frieden's explanation amounts to blaming the victim, when the real lesson is that U.S. hospitals are clearly unprepared to handle Ebola. "You don't scapegoat and blame when you have a disease outbreak," National Nurses United's Bonnie Castillo, an RN and disaster relief expert at the U.S. professional nursing organization and union, tells Reuters. "We have a system failure. That is what we have to correct."
The nurse was wearing recommended protective gear, the Dallas hospital says, but health care workers can get infected with just tiny slips, like if they brush against an infected surface or accidentally touch the wrong part of their hazmat suit, then take off their suit the wrong way. Hospitals haven't done nearly enough to train their staff about Ebola protocols, National Nurses United says, and other experts agree.
But education isn't enough — there also needs to be oversight, Sean Kaufman, of Behavioral-Based Improvement Solutions, tells Reuters. "Doctors and nurses get lost in patient care. They do things that put themselves at risk because their lens is patient-driven." In Dallas, he adds, "I suspect no one was watching to make sure the people who were taking care of the patients were taking care of themselves."