The Legal Framework for Meeting Surge Capacity Through the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Public Health Emergencies and Other Disasters
79 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2007 Last revised: 20 Oct 2013
Date Written: December 2005
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.
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
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation