Nurses responding to Ebola in the United States have been poorly trained and provided with inadequate equipment, the nurses union National Nurses United (NNU) alleged during a heated conference call on Wednesday. Nurses from all over the country phoned into the call to say that they too felt that they had been given little to no support in anticipation of potential Ebola outbreaks in their states.
"We've been attempting to get hospitals in this country to actually hear the nurses' concerns, and we've been told a lot of things that have been wrong," said NNU executive director RoseAnne DeMoro. "We've been lied to."
The union's concerns have also been "essentially ignored" by the White House and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), she added. NNU officials sent an open letter to the White House urging President Obama to use his executive authority to ensure that nurses treating Ebola patients are provided with full-body hazmat suits and receive "continuous interactive training."
The president cancelled travel plans on Wednesday to meet with Cabinet members about the crisis, and the White House announced late Wednesday that he was also calling off planned Thursday trips to Rhode Island and New York in order to continue monitoring developments.
NNU President Deborah Burger accused the CDC itself of failing to comply with best practices. Nurses treating American Ebola patients "did observe the infection control department and the CDC themselves violating basic premises of infection control, including cross contamination between patients," she said.
The leadership of Texas Presbyterian Hospital also received its fair share of ire, having allegedly failed to provide nurses with the safety equipment needed for treating suspected Ebola patients. According to Burger, nurses at the hospital were provided with gowns that exposed their necks and the majority of their heads. The lapse in protocol was "truly heartbreaking and outrageous, and totally preventable," she said.
On the same day as the conference call, CDC investigators confirmed that nurses treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at the Dallas hospital did not wear hazmat gear for two days when they treated him. Only after Duncan tested positive for Ebola did the hospital begin to take those precautions.
The conference call occurred just a few days after a Texan nurse, Nina Pham, was quarantined and diagnosed with Ebola. Pham contracted Ebola from Duncan, who later died as a result of the disease. CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden originally suggested Pham contracted the disease as a result of "a breach in protocol," but walked the statement back after NNU accused him of trying to unfairly shift the blame onto nurses rather than "a breakdown in the system."
On Tuesday, after a second nurse was diagnosed with Ebola, Frieden said the CDC would "have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control."
Paul Millus, who practices employment law with the firm Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, told msnbc the nurses "have a right to be enormously upset" with the CDC and Texas Presbyterian Hospital.
"For the CDC not to require headgear and gear on your feet in connection with treating an Ebola patient, I think, is outrageous ... Don't put this on the backs of workers who are simply trying to do their jobs," he said.
NNU members have said they would be willing to picket hospitals that don't provide them with sufficient equipment and training.