October 6, 2021

Cassidy, King Reintroduce Bill to Protect Disaster Relief Health Professional Volunteers

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act to provide medical professionals with a limited, but consistent, level of legal protection while volunteering during federally-declared disasters. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Boozman (R-AR), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) co-sponsored the bill.  

The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 sought to protect those volunteering through non-profit agencies or government entities from litigation over possible economic damages they may cause while volunteering. However, this act fails to protect persons who volunteer independently of a formally recognized organization, or that cross state lines to volunteer. The combination of federal and state efforts to protect and encourage volunteering, specifically by health care professionals, can be unclear and insufficient in the event of a large-scale disaster. This bill only applies to licensed medical providers and will not protect against litigation if the damage was done in a deliberate or criminal manner.

“After disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Laura and Ida, recovery depends on the volunteers and medical professionals who selflessly come to Louisiana to help those in need,” said Dr. Cassidy. “The least we can do in return is provide needed legal protections while they aid disaster victims.”  

“Amidst the chaos and sorrow of the last 18 months, the selflessness and caring of the American people has been on full display,” said Senator King. “Time and time again, Americans have volunteered to help their fellow citizens in the face of a deadly pandemic and a series of natural disasters – especially our healthcare professionals, who have put their skills and training to use to save lives. These Good Samaritans can make all the difference in times of crisis, and should be celebrated and encouraged – not punished. Our legislation will permanently ensure that volunteers working to confront emergencies will have reasonable legal protections, allowing them to carry out their work and help Americans in need.”

“When disaster strikes, volunteers regularly step into action to help those in need. In Alaska, disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis can strike at any time – reminding us of the importance of help from volunteers, especially health professionals. Obstacles like a lack of civil liability protections are the last thing providers volunteering to respond need to worry about,” said Senator Murkowski. “This bill protects physicians who step into action and help those in need during times of disaster.”

“Tennesseans are no stranger to natural disasters, but the quick recovery of the Volunteer State is the result of servant-hearted leaders supporting their neighbors in need,” said Senator Blackburn. “This legislation is critical to protecting our volunteer community in Tennessee and across the nation.”

“Mississippians have a long history of standing with their fellow citizens in times of crisis,” said Senator Wicker. “This bill would extend legal protections to health care professionals who volunteer and help our nation be more resilient in the face of natural disasters.”

“Stepping up during a crisis to provide medical care to Americans in need is a high calling. It should not open up selfless volunteers to legal jeopardy,” said Senator Boozman. “Ensuring they have a basic level of liability protection is just common sense, and I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to empower these men and women to keep using their skills and training for good in times of disaster.”

“Mississippi is no stranger to disasters or to the blessings of people who bravely volunteer to begin the rescue and recovery process. At the same time, we are also willing and ready to volunteer in other states where needed,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. “This legislation would serve to encourage more health professionals to volunteer by ensuring proper legal protections are in place for them.”

“Communities impacted by disasters rely on volunteer medical professionals to care for those in need. As West Virginians, we know this all too well after experiencing major flooding over the past decade that required volunteers to help administer vital care near disaster sites. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to protect the medical volunteers who work to help our communities recover,” said Senator Manchin

“The Health Coalition on Liability and Access applauds Senators Cassidy and King for introducing the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Protection Act. Thanks to their earlier efforts, Congress wisely saw fit to prevent unwarranted liability lawsuits from being filed against volunteers treating victims of the coronavirus pandemic. It is now time for Congress to ensure similar protections for volunteer health professionals who will sacrifice their time and talents to aid those affected by future federal disasters and public health emergencies. The time to act is now, before the next calamity strikes,” said Mike Stinson, chair of the Health Coalition on Liability and Access (HCLA).