Mass. bill would protect EMS, healthcare workers from liability during COVID-19 crisis
The proposal would shield EMS providers, healthcare workers and hospitals from civil lawsuits as they make difficult decisions during the pandemic
BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is taking steps to shield doctors, nurses and some health care facilities on the front lines from liability as a possible surge in coronavirus cases is expected.
Existing federal and state laws already provide some protections to health care workers and volunteers against civil lawsuits, but a bill Baker filed Wednesday “would provide broader liability protections appropriate to the scope of the challenge our health care providers are confronting,” Baker wrote in a letter urging legislators to act quickly.
“During this pandemic, we’re in unprecedented times where our providers may be asked to make difficult choices and we’re asking them to operate in conditions that they’ve never planned for. We need to make sure that fear of getting sued doesn’t prevent them from being able to do what they need to do to treat as many people as possible,” Baker said at a press conference Wednesday at the State House.
In addition to doctors and nurses, the bill would also protect EMTs and facilities like the field hospitals at Worcester’s DCU Center and South Boston’s convention center.
“This bill will make sure that they are free to do their jobs as best they can amid this unprecedented situation,” Baker said at a press conference Wednesday.
The legislation follows new “disaster situation” guidance by Baker’s administration on how to effectively and equitably ration lifesaving resources — like the ventilators needed to treat the most critically ill COVID-19 patients — that in short supply.
The new Department of Public Health guidelines will help hospitals decide who would get access to the equipment when and if patient demand outstrips supply. It recommends hospitals use a scoring system similar to the model developed by University of Pittsburgh Dr. Douglas White that prioritizes patients who are more likely to survive.
Massachusetts guidelines give further priority to pregnant patients and health care workers. Factors such as race, disability, and immigration status are not considered.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re in a period where hospitals might have to make difficult decisions about how to distribute resources like ventilators but that’s the worst-case scenario and we must plan for it,” Baker said.
“We expect the guidelines would only be used in true disaster situations and of course we are doing everything in our power to prevent these situations from occurring in the first place,” Baker said.
Baker said the state is “still on the upward slope of the pandemic.” The governor has previously said cases could spike to 172,000 in Massachusetts, with the surge of patients hitting sometime between April 10 and 20.
Evidence that hospitals and intensive-care units were starting to hit their breaking points came this past weekend when Boston Medical Center’s ICU reached capacity and began turning away patients.
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