Dallas Presbyterian Hospital

For as long as I have been in town, Presbyterian Hospital has been considered the Rolls-Royce of Dallas healthcare facilities. Young couples went out of their way to ensure their babies were born there. People facing life-threatening surgeries often sought to have their procedures performed there. Wealthy Dallasites looking for a place to make a difference parked their funds there.

It took only a couple of weeks, but things have changed at Presbyterian — so much so that no less than the New York Times published a story late Wednesday analyzing how a hospital apparently at the top of its game for so long could stumble so miserably virtually overnight.

The Times story talks about the lapses we’ve heard about — lack of clarity among staff in handling the initial Ebola diagnosis in the hospital’s emergency room — along with some we haven’t, such as pointing out the hospital’s evolving policy of having healthcare workers dealing with Thomas Eric Duncan wear increasing layers of protective gear and gloves.

On the face of it,  double- and triple-gloving makes sense, but the Times story points out that the practice but may have inadvertently contributed to the two nurses’ contraction of Ebola due to the unexpected difficulty of removing the multiple layers without coming in contact with bodily fluids secreted by Duncan.

Regardless, Presbyterian now faces a Congressional inquiry, a possible lawsuit threatened by Duncan’s family citing faulty care, and even charges of racism for turning Duncan away during his first visit to the hospital. And that’s before the federal government itself completes its investigation, which is just beginning.

There will be more stories about the hospital and its perceived shortcomings in the coming weeks and months, and it’s easy to imagine that fears — however irrational — created by the hospital’s Ebola performance will cost Presbyterian millions of dollars in cash and goodwill.

If you’ve ever been in Presbyterian’s maze of buildings, you know that wandering from one hallway to another can be a herculean task. How any rational person could think that what happened with a couple of Ebola patients in the emergency room area and quarantine rooms could somehow pollute the entire facility is hard to follow. And despite clear issues in some of the hospital’s decision-making, it seems far-fetched to indict all 1,000-or-so physicians who work with Presbyterian as somehow lacking in job skills.

Even Nina Pham, the first nurse stricken after working with Duncan during his Presbyterian stay, has been complimentary of the hospital, telling media: I’m being cared for by the best doctors and nurses in the world.

But that’s the way things go these days, when social media and endlessly live TV cause people to take sides before they even understand what’s actually going on. The Times story presents an informed review of the facts as they’re known, and it’s pretty clear Presbyterian has some apologizing to do (and it’s already off to a start, as the NYT story points out).

But to think that the multi-building facility and its staff have somehow gone from brilliant to incompetent in just a few weeks shows how a little panic and a lot of peer pressure can severely cripple a business that has done a lot for the city over the years.

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