Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse Briana Aguirre, who cared for her friend and co-worker Nina Pham after she tested positive for the Ebola virus, says she can no longer defend her hospital over how she claims it responded to the disease once Thomas Eric Duncan arrived.
“I watched them violate basic principles of nursing," Aguirre told TODAY's Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview that aired Thursday. "I would try anything and everything to refuse to go there to be treated. I would feel at risk by going there. If I don’t actually have Ebola, I may contract it there," she said.
Administrators never discussed with staff how the hospital would handle an Ebola case prior to Duncan’s arrival, Aguirre alleged.
“We never talked about Ebola and we probably should have,” she said. Instead, “they gave us an optional seminar to go to. Just informational, not hands on. It wasn’t even suggested we go … We were never told what to look for.”
"I expected more out of us," Aguirre said.
Earlier in the week, a union that says it represents nurses in every state criticized the hospital, saying that protocols to protect workers were not in place.
Aguirre said she never dealt directly with Duncan, who was initially put in an area with “up to seven other patients,” but she talked with colleagues who did work directly with the patient. She said there was mass confusion over procedures, including how to handle Duncan's lab work.
“It was just a little chaotic scene. Our infectious disease department was contacted to ask, what is our protocol. And their answer was, we don’t know. We’re going to have to call you back,” she said.
Aguirre did take care of Pham, the first of two nurses who contracted Ebola while caring for Duncan. Aguirre said she was shocked by the insufficient protective gear she was provided. The hospital provided gloves, protective gowns and a mask but a gap of several inches around her neck was left exposed.
“I’ll be honest, I threw a fit. I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “In the second week of an Ebola crisis at my hospital, the only gear they were offering us at that time, and up until that time, is gear that is allowing our necks to be uncovered?”
She said she asked several infectious disease nurses and CDC officials about the suits but never got a response.
“Why would I be wearing three pairs of gloves, three pairs of booties, a plastic suit covering my entire body and then leave my neck hanging out this much so that something can potentially go close to my mouth or nose?” she said.
Texas Health Presbyterian referred NBC to a statement it issued that defended its actions against similar claims made by a group of anonymous nurses from the hospital. The statement said Duncan was “moved to a private room and placed in isolation” and that ”staff wore the appropriate personal protective equipment” at all times. It also said that the hospital went “above and beyond the CDC recommendations” when disposing all hazardous waste.
Aguirre said she fears fallout for speaking out about “the best job I ever had,” but feels she made the right decision to go public with her concerns.
“I’m the breadwinner of my family. I’m terrified. I’m just like the majority of middle class, working class people," she said. "I’m just a couple of paychecks away from not being able to pay my mortgage and I’m terrified about that.”