Most hospitals and health-care providers have protocols and procedures for contending with infectious diseases, including those creating public-panic, such as the Ebola outbreak. However, when a new crisis hits, many of these protocols may have been forgotten or ignored. This was seen with the Nebraska Medical Center firing two health workers that treated an Ebola patient because they violated the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In light of a public health scare, maintaining current policy standards will help limit liability.
Beyond existing rules and regulations, with each specific outbreak, both federal and state agencies may update protocols and guidance to contend with the unique nature of that disease. As an example of outbreak specific guidance, in response to Ebola, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance on personal protection equipment (PPE) for use in connection with the disease. Other guidance includes new Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards, designed to protect the healthcare worker. This was seen at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, when two nurses were infected with the disease. Failure to properly comply with newly issued, as well as existing, OSHA and CDC regulations may result in significant potential liability both to patients and workers.
Although many providers may believe they are properly equipped to handle potential Ebola patients, careful consideration must be paid to the newest guidance and regulations, without forgetting existing policy. Failure to do so could result in significant civil liability. As the examples in Texas and Nebraska teach us, hospital and health-care providers should take extra steps to limit their potential liability.
*OSHA Guidance: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3756.pdf
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