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Health Care Workers in Infectious Disease Response

posted on Mon, Mar 30 2015 3:02 pm by Northern Region

A public health professional recently contacted the Network for resources on how to respond to situations in which a health care worker wishes to abdicate responsibility for care of an Ebola patient or any other patient with  an infectious disease.

While a hospital may not require a health care worker (HCW) to be put directly in harm’s way, it can require its HCWs to provide care where universal precautions eliminate potential risks of infection. Such precautions include making personal protective equipment available, employing practices to prevent exposure and infection, and properly training and educating personnel.

Additionally, HCWs who refuse to care for Ebola patients may face dismissal and other sanctions from their employer, as well as licensing sanctions and ethical reviews. They might also face legal liability if they owed a duty to care for a pre-existing patient. When a patient in critical condition arrives in a hospital’s emergency room seeking care, the federal Emergency Medical Treatment & Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires the hospital to screen and stabilize the patient.

While many off-duty HCWs are not legally required to treat patients (absent some other existing relationship or duty), on-call physicians have a legal and ethical duty to respond and treat emergency patients.

The Network provided the requestor with a fact sheet on Ebola public health emergency legal preparedness produced by the Network’s Western Region, along with several other resources that address the issue:

Note: The legal and professional obligations of health care workers continue to evolve in this area. Contractual obligations, union agreements, employee job descriptions, and a variety of related issues need to be considered with counsel in order to determine the specific duties of individual workers.

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