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The Legal Framework for Meeting Surge Capacity Through the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Public Health Emergencies and Other Disasters


James G. Hodge Jr.


Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Lance Gable


Wayne State University Law School

Stephanie H. Calves


Harvard School of Public Health

December 2005

Wayne State University Law School Research Paper 08-06

Abstract:     
Recent events such as Hurricane Katrina and the global SARS outbreak underscore the importance of having public health and medical systems that are prepared to increase surge capacity in a variety of emergency scenarios. A core component to increasing surge capacity is the availability of skilled health professionals to supplement the existing health workforce.

This article examines the legal context volunteer health professionals find themselves in during public health emergencies and disasters. In addition, the article makes several recommendations about how to refine the law to increase the availability of volunteer health professionals during public health emergencies and disasters. First, states should incorporate advance registration systems and protections for volunteers into laws that authorize emergency preparedness and response efforts. These laws should explicitly define the powers of state government during emergencies and clarify the legal provisions applicable to VHPs and the entities or organizations that may rely on them. Second, a floor of legal protections for volunteers is essential to achieve a minimum level of uniformity among the states and facilitate multi-jurisdictional cooperation in emergency response. Third, the scope and breadth of state based volunteer registries must be expanded to ensure comprehensive and coordinated emergency response efforts among states. Fourth, laws must ensure balanced civil liability protections for VHPs and their host entities by creating responsible immunity protections and alternative mechanisms to compensate injured patients. Fifth, states are encouraged to enact laws and regulations providing for license portability during emergencies. Sixth, VHPs should be vested with workers' compensation protections for injuries, disabilities, or deaths experienced while carrying out their duties. Finally, state and federal laws should confer robust privacy protections on volunteer registries, implement fair information practices to allow VHPs and patients to access and verify registry data, and simultaneously ensure responsible access to and use of registry information to mount an effective response.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 79

Keywords: public health, emergency preparedness, emergency response, disaster, Hurricane Katrina, volunteers, medical liability, workers compensation, professional licensing, emergency declarations

JEL Classification: K32, K13, I10, I18

working papers series


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Date posted: September 24, 2007 ; Last revised: October 20, 2013

Suggested Citation

Hodge, James G. and Gable, Lance and Calves, Stephanie H., The Legal Framework for Meeting Surge Capacity Through the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Public Health Emergencies and Other Disasters (December 2005). Wayne State University Law School Research Paper 08-06. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1016166 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1016166

Contact Information

James G. Hodge Jr.
Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
Lance Gable (Contact Author)
Wayne State University Law School ( email )
471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States
Stephanie H. Calves
Harvard School of Public Health ( email )
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
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