Risk Management in the Wake of Hurricanes and Other Disasters: Hospital Civil Liability Arising from the Use of Volunteer Health Professionals During Emergencies
32 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2008
Date Written: 2006
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.
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