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Emergency-related FAQs addressed by lawyer group
Evacuation issues highlighted
"Lessons Learned From the Gulf Coast Hurricanes," recently published by the American Health Lawyers Association, looks at legal issues that arose in the context of the 2005 hurricanes.
The 68-page report addresses a series of frequently asked questions related to emergency preparation, response, and recovery. The report is available at the organization's web site, www.healthlawyers.org. Select "Public Interest" on the right at the top navigational bar; then select "Public Information Series."
Following are some highlights from questions covered in the section of the report dealing with patient evacuation.
All hospitals and nursing homes are required by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to develop and maintain emergency plans. In addition, The Joint Commission requires the facilities it accredits to maintain emergency plans that include evacuation procedures.
Facilities should enter into transfer agreements with other institutions in the area to expedite the transfer of patients to those institutions in the event of an emergency. Transfer agreements should be as specific as possible in identifying the respective roles of the parties depending on the type of emergency in effect. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, nursing homes often sought to evacuate their patients to hospitals, which in turn were facing their own decisions regarding whether to evacuate.
Hospital personnel charged with responsibility for developing and implementing disaster-preparedness plans should make sure that they know the state and local officials responsible for developing local disaster plans and for implementing aspects of those plans. All parties should be familiar with how communications will be affected during an emergency if normal channels are compromised. As facilities' obligations might be altered by pronouncements of local officials, it is critical that the lines of communication remain open. If one facility does decide to close and begin diverting patients, that facility may have legal obligations to notify certain officials. It will also be important that personnel responsible for implementing emergency response protocols have ready access to hard-copy lists of resources and contacts within the community.
The requirements of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) are preeminent. In addition, the existence of emergency conditions might affect other legal or regulatory requirements applicable to evacuating institutions.