Jackson Lee: Nurses should have 'right to refuse' Ebola cases

A Texas Democrat is advocating for the right of nurses to refuse care for Ebola patients in certain situations when they feel at risk.

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson-LeeDems sustain protest as GOP angles to start recess early House erupts as GOP tries to halt Dems' sit-in House caucus to focus on business in Latin America MORE said that while nurses bear a responsibility to provide unbiased care for all patients, they should also retain the power to refuse care in Ebola cases when they don't feel properly trained or equipped for the task.

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"While I believe nurses are obligated to care for patients in a non-discriminatory manner, with respect for all individuals, I also recognize there may be limits to the personal risk of harm nurses can be expected to accept as an ethical duty," Lee said in a statement. 

"Nurses should have the right to refuse an assignment if they do not feel adequately prepared or do not have the necessary equipment to care for Ebola patients."

Jackson Lee also encouraged healthcare workers to speak out "if they believe there is inadequate planning, education or treatment related to providing care to these or any patients."

She made the comments following a press event in Jackson Lee's Houston district, where the liberal Democrat joined former Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, representatives of various nurses unions and officials from Houston's health department. They called on the administration to establish uniform guidelines for healthcare workers and facilities that might find themselves treating Ebola patients. 

A Liberian man died from Ebola last week at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and the disease has spread to at least two healthcare workers who treated him. Since then, one nurse at the facility has publicly complained that there were no protocols in place for treating the deadly virus, while several others have voiced similar complaints anonymously through the National Nurses United union. 

Hospital officials have defended their response, saying their workers were "consistently compliant” with protocols put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The hospital lashed out at critics in the nurses union and the media for "inserting themselves into an already challenging situation."

“We do not believe it is necessary or helpful for outside parties to intervene in this relationship," the hospital said Friday in a statement.

Jackson Lee is urging the CDC to take several steps to ensure the disease is contained, including the establishment of "clear and specific standards for personal protective equipment (PPE)" for workers treating Ebola patients; the "full disclosure" of findings surrounding the case at Presbyterian Hospital in order "to improve practices and prevent further infections;" and "more rapid dissemination of any changes to procedures, guidelines and recommended care."

A growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — most of them Republicans — are calling for the Obama administration to take the more dramatic step of temporarily banning travel for non-citizens coming to the United States from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the disease has reached epidemic levels. 

The White House, CDC and many Democrats have so far rejected that strategy, arguing that it would only exacerbate the threat, both at home and abroad.

Jackson Lee, who is among those opposed to the travel ban, called instead for more aid to the African hotspots.

"Until we have sufficient systems and resources there to appropriately manage patient care and stop its spread, Ebola will remain a global concern,” she said.