Frieden suggested in his prepared testimony (PDF) that the protocols for treating Ebola patients were not good enough.
“While we do not yet know exactly how these transmissions occurred, they demonstrate the need to strengthen the procedures for infection-control protocols which allowed for exposure to the virus,” Frieden wrote in his testimony. He added that “we are working very hard to investigate the situation, but are not waiting for the completion of this investigation and have already helped the hospital implement new measures for safety.”
Varga said in his testimony that the cause of nurse Nina Pham's infection was still unknown and insisted that all the preventive protocols of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention were followed. The hospital continues to investigate how the virus was transmitted to Pham, who cared for Duncan, and a second Texas Health Presbyterian nurse, Amber Vinson.
The CDC has increased education and training of healthcare workers at the hospital. Meanwhile, Vinson has been transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which has a specialized unit for treating patients with infectious diseases. Pham was scheduled to be admitted Thursday night to the specialized containment unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., NIH official Dr. Anthony Fauci said during the hearing.
Varga also apologized in his prepared testimony for Texas Health Presbyterian's release of faulty information about the sequence of events. “In our effort to communicate to the public quickly and transparently, we inadvertently provided some information that was inaccurate and had to be corrected,” he said. “No doubt that was unsettling to a community that was already concerned and confused, and we have learned from that experience as well.”
At one point, the health system blamed a flaw in the workflows of its electronic health-record system for failing to convey to everyone on the clinical team that he told a nurse he had recently traveled from Liberia. That statement was later retracted.
Lawmakers pushed hard during the hearing for the administration to impose a travel ban on people traveling from West African nations, where the outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people. Many U.S. hospitals, they said, are not prepared to handle an infected patient.
They expressed particular concern for community health centers and rural hospitals that may not have appropriate protective equipment.
Lawmakers also questioned whether the training materials the CDC has distributed electronically were sufficient to prepare the nation's hospitals.
Varga testified that although Texas Health Resources hospitals started receiving CDC bulletins on Ebola in July, there were no CDC-led trainings or drills.
Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson