What does the future hold for Nina Pham?
Friday, March 06, 2015
On March 2, nurse Nina Pham filed a lawsuit against her employer, Texas Health Resources, for negligent training and a violation of privacy in the wake of the Ebola incident in Dallas. Pham helped take care of Thomas Eric Duncan, who walked into a Dallas community hospital infected with the Ebola virus he contracted in Liberia, and she became the first person to contract Ebola in the United States.
At the time of Duncan's hospitalization in October 2014, the Ebola crisis had been raging in West Africa with more than 4,000 deaths and spreading quickly. However, the American healthcare system was doing little to prepare for a possible patient — one who was just a plane ride away.
The incident in Dallas created a lot of questions with few answers. But what became quickly obvious was that the nurses carried on, doing their jobs and caring for patients to the best of their abilities in a unusual situation. Unfortunately, during the "learning curve," Pham got infected with the deadly Ebola virus.
As with any serious medical crisis, the healing is often complicated, long and sometimes incomplete. This is likely the case for Pham. According to the article published in The Dallas Morning News, Pham continues to suffer the lasting effects of her brush with death.
She recounts her concerns of long-lasting effects of the disease and the experimental treatment that helped to save her life. Her future health is uncertain and uncharted in areas of medicine.
But often the physical effects are inconsequential compared to the emotional stress endured after surviving such a harrowing situation. Pham states she suffers from insomnia and fears she will never be able to return to bedside nursing — specifically the ICU. Not only would it be traumatic to return after such an experience, but the lack of trust of another employer would also be challenging.
It has been clear from the beginning that the hospital was ill-prepared to care for such a patient as Duncan. However, the prevailing thought at the time was that "every hospital was prepared for such a patient."
The staff trusted this, as most would. They believed the decision-making authorities would be educated and in communication with the appropriate people to make the best decision. Instead, we learn of the staff relying on their own Internet searches for guidance in caring for this rare, but lethal disease.
Pham has every right to be upset and especially to feel as though she was left to fend for herself. She did what nurses do — they attempt to care for their patients, despite the circumstances.
Unfortunately, during this time, there also appear to be some serious violations of her privacy. At the time of Pham's transfer to the National Institutes of Health for further treatment, a video surfaced showing her as a patient.
Pham maintains she did not give permission for the video to be made and especially for its widely publicized broadcast. Every patient deserves privacy, and Pham was no exception.
Pham's future in healthcare may be challenging. It will be interesting to see where her career takes her. She certainly will find roadblocks — both real and imagined.
Nina Pham is now a household name and not likely to disappear quickly. She was recently interviewed while at a Texas Christian University game where they inquired how she was dealing with her celebrity status. Although she shies away from the title of "celebrity," it will be a while before she will be out of the spotlight.
Unfortunately, if Pham proceeds with her lawsuits, she is essentially coming forward as a whistleblower. She makes strong claims against the hospital, including that the medical staff falsified testimony to Congress.
Healthcare facilities may want to believe they do not fear whistleblowers, but in a land of perceptions, they can be costly. This alone may make her unemployable, as no corporate entity would want to take the risk.
So, what does the future hold for Pham? The nursing community certainly holds her in high esteem for coming forward so bravely to speak up. She is a voice for the frontline caregivers who risk their lives everyday caring patients.
Pham has pulled the curtain back and exposed what really happened so we can learn from it. She will be that voice that will stand up to the big corporation so this hopefully does not happen again.
One of the beauties of nursing is that there are so many avenues to pursue. So, although Pham's future may not be exactly as she planned, the hope is that the nursing community will rally around her in support, so her new plan can be found.
The nursing community needs to be right by Pham's side, standing together — 2.5 million strong.
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