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Texas Nurse ‘Can No Longer Defend’ Hospital After Ebola Handling

3 minute read

Updated 10:51 a.m. EST

A nurse who worked at the Texas hospital where two nurses caught Ebola says she “can no longer defend [her] hospital at all” following its handling of multiple Ebola patients.

In a Today show interview Briana Aguirre said that while Texas Health Presbyterian in general is “a premier facility,” it was unprepared to handle the Ebola crisis. Aguirre claims that the hospital didn’t provide any mandatory education or information about Ebola outside of an optional seminar before Thomas Eric Duncan, who later died from the disease, arrived at the hospital for care.

Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources, the medical group that oversees the hospital, apologized Thursday for mistakes made in the handling of Ebola and Duncan.

“Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team we made mistakes,” Varga said in prepared remarks for a congressional hearing set for Thursday. “We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry.”

Aguirre felt the protective gear she was initially instructed to wear was insufficient and put her at risk because of a gap in coverage around her neck. She also alleges that the hospital has for months lacked the necessary personnel to keep with staff education, policies and procedures.

“I watched them violate basic principles of nursing,” Aguirre said.

See The Tobacco Leaves That Could Cure Ebola

An worker inspects the Nicotiana benthamiana plants at Medicago greenhouse in Quebec City
Tobacco plants are grown for six weeks in the Medicago greenhouse in Quebec City so their leaves are large enough to serve as a factory for making antibodies. The plants are not modified or genetically altered in any way during this time.Mathieu Belanger—Reuters
Icon Genetics Provides Technology For Possible Ebola Treatment
Researchers at Icon Genetics in Germany prepare the DNA coding for antibodies that can neutralize Ebola. These genes are inserted into a soil bacterium that easily infects the tobacco plant cells. Once in the cells, the gene is treated like any other plant gene and the plant starts churning out the antibodies.Sean Gallup—Getty Images
Nicotiana benthamiana plants are dipped in a solution during the infiltration process at Medicago greenhouse in Quebec City
To infect the leaves with the antibody-containing bacteria, the plants are submerged in a water solution of the loaded bacteria. Plant cells have plenty of empty spaces filled with air, so a vacuum removes the air and the water, along with the bacteria and antibody genes, flow in.Mathieu Belanger—Reuters
An worker shows the difference between the leaf of the Nicotiana benthamiana plant before (top) and after (botom) the infiltration process at Medicago greenhouse in Quebec City
The leaf at the bottom has not been treated. The leaf on top is now an antibody-making factory. The plant's normal machinery starts making the antibody as if it is a plant protein.Mathieu Belanger—Reuters
Icon Genetics Provides Technology For Possible Ebola Treatment
Researchers at Icon Genetics grind the leaves down to filter out the antibodies.Sean Gallup—Getty Images
Icon Genetics Provides Technology For Possible Ebola Treatment
Ultraviolet light reveals the clusters of cells that are busy making antibodies. One kg of leaves produces about 5g of antibodies, which is about a third of the dose required to treat an Ebola patient.Sean Gallup—Getty Images

When NBC asked for a comment, Texas Health provided a statement saying the hospital has always complied with recommendations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about protective gear. The statement says the hospital also “went above and beyond” in the handling of hazardous waste.

“When the CDC recommended that nurses wear isolation suits, the nurses raised questions and concerns about the fact that the skin on their neck was exposed,” the statement reads. “Because our nurses continued to be concerned, particularly about removing the tape, we ordered hoods.”

Aguirre said during her interview that she is “terrified” about the risk of losing her job for speaking out publicly. “I’m the breadwinner of my family,” she said. “I’m just a couple of paychecks away from not being able to pay my mortgage and I’m terrified about that.”

Nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were diagnosed with Ebola after helping care for Duncan, who died from the virus earlier this month after traveling from Liberia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Tom Frieden says Pham’s infection occurred following a “breach in protocol.”


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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com