Editorial: Hospital CEO’s letter was important first step

Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan has been the target of criticism for not being more visible and/or vocal during the Ebola crisis that erupted this month at his organization’s Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. The criticism is warranted to some degree; the hospital and its parent company would have benefited from a strong and reassuring public presence in the earliest hours and days of the crisis.

But Berdan deserves to be commended for taking a solid first step toward rebuilding his organization’s credibility and restoring public confidence in the Dallas hospital that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Once Duncan brought the disease to America from Liberia, the stage was set for an efficient and effective response by the U.S. health care system – or for what unfortunately happened, a series of mistakes and missteps that left two health care workers infected with the disease that took Duncan’s life and thrust the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex into a state of near panic.

Berdan remained curiously out of sight as information trickled out through the media and the Centers for Disease Control about problems at Dallas Presbyterian that began when Duncan first visited the emergency room only to be sent home before eventually being admitted and treated for the deadly disease he contracted in Africa. But on Sunday, Oct. 19, Berdan published an open “Letter to Our Community” in the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram that forthrightly addressed the questions and concerns about his hospital’s handling of the Ebola situation. In the letter, Berdan apologized for the mistakes and pledged to make sure that Dallas Presbyterian and Texas Health Resources don’t repeat them in the future.

Some might say this was too little, too late, but that’s unfair. It surely took Berdan some time to sort out the confusing and contradictory information that swirled around his organization and swept through the community; it would have been irresponsible and almost certainly counterproductive for him to speak up before gathering the facts. Even now, many questions remain; Berdan vowed to find the answers and to share them with the public and the appropriate agencies and officials.

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Much remains to be done. But Berdan’s letter to the community was a major step in the right direction.