Dallas hospital treating first Ebola patient may face legal troubles

In addition to the medical challenges of dealing with Ebola, there may be legal trouble in store for the Dallas hospital housing the country's first patient diagnosed with the virus, according to Texas Lawyer.

The way clinicians at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital handled the case has many potential major legal repercussions; for example the patient was initially diagnosed with a common viral infection and sent home with an antibiotic, and it took days before he was admitted and placed in isolation, according to the article.

"The general counsel of Texas Pres[byterian]--or any general counsel for that matter--will be going back and looking at that first point of contact with that patient to make sure the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] hospital checklist for Ebola was followed," Ed Barker, former chief legal officer for the Denver, Colorado-based SCL Hospital System, told Texas Lawyer. "You have to treat somebody--until you have the test results back--as if they have the potential of an infectious disease, especially if they came from a West African country."

Although the patient told hospital staff he had recently traveled to a country affected by the virus, officials initially said that information was not shared via the organization's electronic health system but the hospital later retracted the statement. But Charles Bailey, general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association, said despite the importance of containing the virus, the legal issues are not necessarily different than they would be for other communicable illnesses. The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, remains in critical condition while he receives an experimental drug treatment, according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, a Spanish nurse has become the first health worker outside of West Africa to contract the disease, the New York Times reports. This case has health officials concerned, as Spain has a far more developed infection control infrastructure than the African nations affected. And despite assurances that the virus cannot spread through the air, C.J. Peters, M.D., who researches viral diseases at the University of Texas in Galveston, said "we just don't have the data to exclude" the possibility of the virus spreading through air in tight quarters, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Last month the CDC issued a checklist for hospital to prepare for the virus, following earlier guidelines for patients with symptoms unconfirmed to be infected with the virus, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Texas Lawyer article
- here's the New York Times article
- check out the USA Today article
- here's the LA Times article