Updated at 10:45 a.m. ET
A top official from the Dallas hospital where the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. was treated and two nurses who cared for him have become infected is expected to testify before a House panel today and acknowledge mistakes in the facility’s handling of the situation.
“We made mistakes,” says Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer with Texas Health Resources, which runs Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, in prepared testimony obtained by member station KERA.
Varga’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations comes as President Obama, for a second day, canceled out-of-town trips to stay in Washington, D.C., and monitor the response to the outbreak. The president had planned to travel to Rhode Island and New York today.
Thomas Eric Duncan first sought treatment at the hospital on Sept. 26 but was sent home with antibiotics despite a high fever and having told a nurse of his recent travel to Liberia, an Ebola hot spot. Two days later, he returned to the hospital and was put in isolation and subsequently diagnosed with Ebola. Two nurses who treated Duncan, Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29, now have the disease.
In his testimony, Varga acknowledges that the hospital did not correctly diagnose the disease on Duncan’s first visit. “We are deeply sorry,” he says.
After treating Duncan but before she exhibited symptoms, Vinson traveled by commercial airliner to and from Cleveland. That has raised questions about why she was allowed to travel with the public and whether anyone in an official capacity cleared her to do so. Her reported temperature was below the threshold set by the agency, and she had no symptoms, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman David Daigle, who talked to The Associated Press. The CDC has said that the likelihood of her passing the virus to a fellow passenger is considered very low.
In a statement issued early Thursday from Texas Health Presbyterian, the hospital responded to allegations by National Nurses United that protocols and equipment were not up to the task of treating Duncan. The hospital says it followed CDC guidelines at the time.
Texas Health Presbyterian also said it would offer a special room “to any of our impacted employees who would like to stay here to avoid even the remote possibility of any potential exposure to family, friends and the broader public,” according to a statement late Wednesday, adding, “We are doing this for our employees’ peace of mind and comfort. This is not a medical recommendation.”
Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, is also expected to testify before the House subcommittee. In prepared remarks, he calls the current epidemic “the biggest and most complex Ebola challenge the world has ever faced.”
“Fortunately, we know what we must do. In order to stop an Ebola outbreak, we must find active cases, respond appropriately, and prevent future cases,” he says in the prepared testimony. “The use of real-time diagnostics is extremely important to identify new cases. We must support the strengthening of health systems and assist in training healthcare providers.
“Once active cases have been identified, we must support quality patient care in treatment centers, prevent further transmission through proper infection control practices, and protect healthcare workers,” he says.
Obama has made ramping up efforts to respond to Ebola a priority and wants to make sure what happened in Dallas doesn’t happen elsewhere across the country. He said efforts are being taken very seriously at the highest levels of the government.
“As soon as somebody is diagnosed with Ebola, we want a rapid response team, a SWAT team, essentially, from the CDC to be on the ground as quickly as possible — hopefully within 24 hours — so that they are taking the local hospital step by step through exactly what needs to be done and making sure that all the protocols are properly observed; that the use of protective equipment is done effectively; that disposal of that protective equipment is done properly,” Obama said after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.
In addition to Varga and Frieden, the House panel is expected to hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
In prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press, Fauci said Duncan’s death and the infections of the two Dallas nurses and a nurse in Spain “intensify our concerns about this global health threat.” He said two Ebola vaccine candidates were undergoing a first phase of human clinical testing this fall. But he cautions that scientists were still in the early stages of understanding how Ebola infection can be treated and prevented.