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Risk Management in the Wake of Hurricanes and Other Disasters: Hospital Civil Liability Arising from the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Emergencies


James G. Hodge Jr.


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

Stephanie H. Calves


Harvard School of Public Health

Lance Gable


Wayne State University Law School

Elizabeth Meltzer


Georgetown University Law Center

Sara Kraner


Georgetown University Law Center

2006

Michigan State University College of Law Journal of Medicine and Law, Vol. 10, No. 57, 2006
Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 08-28

Abstract:     
Hospitals using volunteer health professionals (VHPs) to provide surge capacity during emergencies may face many legal challenges, including civil liability under the doctrines of corporate negligence and vicarious liability. These two legal theories are particularly concerning for hospital entities because, unlike individual volunteers during emergencies, they may not enjoy special immunity or indemnification protections through emergency laws or other mechanisms for liability regarding the provision of medical care.

Despite the potential for liability arising out of the use of VHPs, and the limited protections hospitals enjoy, hospitals may engage in several proactive strategies to effectively manage their risks. This article discusses three potentially effective strategies:

(1) Planning and training to meet surge capacity. One of the most effective strategies to limit liability is to prevent the conditions from which it may attach. Hospitals that engage in advance planning to meet surge capacity in response to emergencies, and require existing (and potential volunteer) health personnel to be trained in the methods of delivering quality care in the context of emergencies via triage, are taking meaningful, responsible steps toward significantly reducing their liability during emergencies;

(2) Implementing strict credentialing procedures. Volunteer registries like ESAR-VHP are designed to readily provide hospitals with access to available, pre-vetted VHPs for real-time responses to emergencies. This service is invaluable, but hospitals may also need to supplement these efforts through additional credentialing procedures designed to expeditiously validate the qualifications of VHPs specifically assigned to treat patients; and

(3) Divesting responsibility for VHPs. Statutory and other legal mechanisms do not fully insulate hospitals from all types of liability related to the use of VHPs during emergencies. However, hospitals can divest some of their responsibility through affirmative steps including specific informed consent forms for patients and specialized agreements with VHPs, their host hospitals, or other entities. Collectively, these proactive measures not only help reduce the potential for significant liability of hospitals in the use of VHPs during emergencies, but they can also improve patient care by facilitating the deployment of essential medical personnel when and where they are most needed.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

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Date posted: August 23, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Hodge, James G. and Calves, Stephanie H. and Gable, Lance and Meltzer, Elizabeth and Kraner, Sara, Risk Management in the Wake of Hurricanes and Other Disasters: Hospital Civil Liability Arising from the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Emergencies (2006). Michigan State University College of Law Journal of Medicine and Law, Vol. 10, No. 57, 2006; Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 08-28. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1242262

Contact Information

James G. Hodge Jr. (Contact Author)
Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
Stephanie H. Calves
Harvard School of Public Health ( email )
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
Lance Gable
Wayne State University Law School ( email )
471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States
Elizabeth Meltzer
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
Sara Kraner
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
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