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In 2017 alone, the US had 16 natural disasters. Drought in the north, wildfires in the west, flooding, freezing, severe weather, and tornadoes in the Midwest, and three hurricanes on the coast. It was a detrimental and costly year for American citizens.

During Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, 13 million people from Texas to Kentucky were affected, with many of in need of medical assistance. Fortunately, 300 volunteer organizations were there to aid people from Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Maria, another Category 4 storm, devastated Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure, and forced 70,000 people into evacuation. Medical volunteers like National Nurses United(NNU) and Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) spent 2 weeks giving aid in Puerto Rico, risking their own health in order to share their medical expertise.

2017 USA Natural Disasters Map

$1bn disasters in 2017 – before Hurricane Harvey. Photograph: NOAA

 

This rise in large-scale disasters shed light on a gap in our federal legal system; federal protection of volunteer medical professionals from medical liability lawsuits in all 50 states. It is important that medical professionals across the nation are not dissuaded from traveling to affected areas and providing care due to fear of a lawsuit.

The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act

As of April 4, 2017, The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (H.R. 1876/S. 781) has passed committee and been introduced to the House, accumulating to date 45 sponsors, and 2 committees. It is still in the process of becoming a law, and can be followed here.

This act aims to accomplish two tasks:

(1) Protect medical volunteers during federally-declared disasters

(2) Ensure victims of federally-declared disasters have medical volunteers.

Specifically, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act amends the Public Health Service Act to protect medical volunteers from liability under federal or state law for harm caused by any medical service volunteered in good faith.

This act is not intended to license doctors to practice out of state, nor to disregard State laws already in place for medical volunteers. It is intended to reinforce the protection of medical volunteers on a federal level. The authority to decide the capacity of which the medical volunteer can practice will remain with the State.

Students and Doctors march to Congress for #DOday photo credit

Doctors and Students March for the Act

For DO Day 2018, over 1,000 DO students marched on Washington DC and spoke to Congress in advocacy of The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act.

Donating to the Cause

As natural disasters continue to impact our communities and our neighbors, The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act may be a vital step to ensure the safety, and willingness of, much needed medical volunteers.

During both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irva, PEPID provided full access to their clinical support apps Emergency Medicine Suite, Primary Care Plus Ambulatory Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine SuiteProfessional Nursing Suite free of charge for medical volunteers. These suites gave clinicians reliable access to support like the pill identifier, drug and allergy interactions checkers, medical calculators, and clinical and drug related content with no need for an internet connection after initial download.