Why Texas Presbyterian Failed to Stop Ebola

OK, I’ll take the currently unpopular position in defense of the Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital Dallas (TPHHD) and their treatment of the late Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan.

The TPHHD was the inspiration of a Dr. William M. Elliott Jr., pastor of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and Frank H. Kidd Jr., MD. After nearly ten years of planning and fund raising, in May, 1966, it opened its doors on the old site of the Reynolds Presbyterian Orphanage, just outside Dallas. Today the Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital Dallas is an 898-bed acute-care hospital, treating some of the most complicated cases in North Texas.

By now, we all know the story. It was on September 30th when a Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan showed up at the hospital’s ER, complaining of flu-like symptoms. Why did he pick Texas Presbyterian? Because it was closest to the apartment where he was living with relatives. If you have ever visited a major hospital’s ER, or watched it on TV, you know the pace is usually pretty hectic because, as the name implies, they are dealing with emergency situations — heart attacks, automobile accidents, etc.

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We now know that Mr. Duncan was a resident of Liberia, one of the three African nations experiencing an epidemic of the very contagious disease, Ebola. We now know that on September 15, Mr. Duncan hired a taxi to transport his pregnant girlfriend, Marthalene Willams, suffering from the disease, to a hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. She was denied admittance due to a lack of space. Mr. Duncan accompanied her back home, where she died shortly afterward.

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Four days later, Mr. Duncan went to the airport in Monrovia, where, according to Liberian officials, he lied on an airport questionnaire about his history of contact with the disease and was thus permitted to board a flight to Brussels, Belgium. From Brussels, he took a plane to the Washington Dulles airport, and then to Dallas-Fort Worth. It was two weeks later that he showed up at Texas Presbyterian, running a fever of 103 degrees.

So what did the ER personnel do? Probably the same thing they have done a thousand other times when someone shows up with flu-like symptoms. They gave him antibiotics and sent him home. Oh yes, he did admit to having lived in Liberia, but what would that have meant to ER nurses in mid-America? Probably thought it was a town in southern Louisiana.

Of course Mr. Duncan knew the significance of his past medical exposure but, as he had done previously, failed to mention it. Three days later, he became the first person to ever be diagnosed in the US with Ebola – a condition many of the ER personnel at Texas Presbyterian had probably never heard of.

You know the rest of the story… so far. Mr. Duncan died. The Reverends Jackson and Sharpton showed up, threatening discrimination lawsuits. Two of the ER nurses who attended Mr. Duncan are near death, now being treated for Ebola in communicable disease facilities in Atlanta, GA and Bethesda, MD. Hundreds of others are being quarantined or monitored as possible carriers.

It is now admitted that doctors and nurses at Texas Presbyterian, and most other hospitals throughout the US, had received no “protocols” (a fancy word for instructions) from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the National Institute of Health (NIH) concerning Ebola. The Obama Administration and the CDC have been stumbling all over themselves with contradictions and just plain ignorance. How about our US Surgeon General? Shouldn’t he/she be playing a role in there somewhere? Well, no. President Obama appointed one, but the Senate hasn’t gotten around to confirming the appointment. And at this point, no one is likely to accept such an honor.

So the Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital has been left holding the bag because they gave flu medication to a walk-in patient with flu-like symptoms, instead recognizing it as an African disease they had probably never heard of, and obviously had never seen before.

The blame, of course, rightly belongs with the late Mr. Duncan, who knew better, but lied repeatedly: with an Administration that has steadfastly refused to close our borders to those with the potential for bringing additional cases of the Ebola virus to our shores: and with government agencies who had intimate knowledge of the disease and its consequences, but never communicated it to those with a need to know.

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