The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped out of line in claiming that “a breach in protocol” caused an American nurse treating an Ebola victim to contract the deadly virus, the two largest U.S. nurses’ unions charged Wednesday.

National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S. with around 185,000 members, said that the CDC’s assertions about a violation in hospital procedures was unwarranted because current Ebola protocols are either inadequate or nonexistent in hospitals across the country. The organization held a national conference call for nurses and press on October 15 calling for hands-on training nationwide to prepare nurses to treat Ebola patients. The union asked the CDC and Pres. Barack Obama to meet its demands for better training, supplies and treatment regimens. “Not one more nurse, not one more patient should be put at risk,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU executive director.
A handful of the 11,000 nurses listening in on the call phoned into the conference to echo DeMoro’s sentiments. Nurses from Massachusetts, Florida, California and Washington, D.C., complained of inadequate Ebola training in their hospitals. Some said they received less than 10 minutes of instruction whereas others were only given colored flyers with Ebola fact tips and instructions to visit the CDC Web site for further information.
The NNU called the two U.S. Ebola cases in Texas a “nightmare for nurses across the country.” The group read an anonymous statement by nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas (THPH), which had cared for Thomas Duncan, the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S.
The union claimed that the hospital was ill-prepared to treat Ebola. Its letter stated that Duncan was not immediately put into isolation but was left for several hours in an area with other patients. The nurses at THPH, moreover, had little protective equipment when they were dealing with the late Duncan’s bodily fluids. “The nurses strongly feel unsupported, unprepared, lied to and deserted to handle the situation on their own,” the statement said.
Texas Health Resources, the nonprofit health system that owns THPH, released its own statement October 16 countering several of the claims made by NNU about how THPH handled the Duncan case. The nonprofit health care system asserts that Duncan was rushed to isolation on entering the hospital and that the nurses treating him were given protective gear in line with CDC recommendations.
The NNU is not the only nurses’ union expressing similar concerns. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which also organizes nurses and has more than 80,000 members, held a briefing on October 16. “All nurses and health care professionals must receive up-to-date, appropriate training,” said Randi Weingarten, the AFT president. Her organization wants the CDC to implement a three-part plan, which would include infection-control protocols, establishing dedicated teams of volunteers specially trained to identify and treat Ebola and the inclusion of health care workers in formulating planning measures.
“Health preparedness requires funding,” Weingarten said. “That funding has been slashed by politicians and must be restored.” Both the NNU and the AFT have called for increased public funding so that hospitals can afford the most advanced protective equipment for health care workers.