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Texas Nurses Have Concerns And Confidence About Ebola

After two of the nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan became sick with Ebola, their colleagues across the state are expressing concerns about preparation for handling Ebola. 

In the fight against Ebola, nurses are in the line of fire.

“Nurses are that front line, they know where the potential for things to go wrong are, and that’s why they need to raise their concerns,” says registered nurse Cindy Zolnierek. Zolnierek is executive director of the Texas Nurses Association, which has more than 7,000 member nurses.

So far, Zolnierek says she is hearing some concerns about readiness, but also statements of confidence.

“We’re also hearing from nurses saying, we can respond to this, we’re educated to handle infectious disease, we understand the principals we have the tools we need, we can respond to this.”

That’s very different than what Deborah Berger, co-president of the National Nurses United union says she’s hearing from Texas nurses.

Serious Allegations 

On a conference call Wednesday, she said Texas Health Presbyterian nurses told her there were no protocols in place for them when they began treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. 

“Nurses had to interact with Mr. Duncan with whatever was available at the time,” she said. “When he had copious amounts of (…) bodily fluids coming from his body.”

She added that “hospital officials allowed nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient care.”

KERA has not been able to confirm these specific allegations, and the National Nurses United union does not represent nurses at Presbyterian.

Nurses from other Texas hospitals though are speaking up. On the conference call, Yadira Cabrerra, an El Paso nurse, expressed her concern that hospitals aren’t adequately educating nurses on Ebola.   

“We have received a training of approximately ten minutes regarding Ebola,” she said," and not given an interactive type training which is what we demand.”

Cindy Zolnierek, PhD, RN is Executive Director of the Texas Nurses Association.

Some nurses may be scared to speak up. Cindy Zolnierek with the Texas Nurse Association says they shouldn’t be.

“In this state, in Texas, we are very fortunate that we have a number of protections for nurses who do raise concerns. So if they fear of retaliation, it’s against the law to retaliate.”

Zolnierek says nurses have a duty to report concerns, and hospitals have a responsibility to listen. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.