Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources and Crisis Standards of Care
Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch
7 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020 Last revised: 20 Oct 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
Potential shortages of medical resources and services related to COVID-19 present government officials and emergency planners with difficult choices. If resources become too scarce, health care professionals and institutions may need to implement triage protocols adopting crisis standards of care. COVID-19 patient surges tested the health care system in March and April 2020, and highlighted the need to prepare to accommodate larger patient capacity in the near future. As a primary consideration, governments and health care institutions should utilize existing powers and resources to avoid shortages and mitigate their severity. If shortages do occur, most states have begun to develop crisis standards of care protocols to assist in making decisions about allocating scarce resources. These protocols attempt to maximize the number of lives saved. Many protocols give priority access to health care and other essential workers. These protocols should be structured to facilitate fair and equitable access, although several have been found to be inconsistent with federal anti-discrimination law. Legal issues that may arise in this context include liability for health care professionals and institutions who decide to not allocate resources to patients who later suffer harm, and civil rights concerns over discrimination in the protocols or their implementation. Liability shields have been put in place by many states to protect health care professionals from lawsuits based on allocation decisions. Federal and state officials should support efforts to clarify and incorporate protections into crisis standards of care plans that prioritize anti-discrimination, fairness, and equity in allocation decision making.
This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.
Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, legal responses, pandemic, public health, law, public health law, crisis standards of care, scarce, medical resources
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