As we all know, with COVID-19 (the illness brought on by the coronavirus) at virtually full strength, medical providers have been stymied by a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). Some hospitals are reported to have told their health care workers to re-use masks or, in the pure absence of masks, to use bandanas or other pieces of cloth on their faces. Does a doctor or other medical worker have a remedy if they don’t have access to the gloves and masks and other standard medical gear to protect themselves from infection with COVID-19? What if the medical staff member is aware of other crisis-created non-standard or dangerous conditions at the hospital where they are treating patients? The question is serious when we consider that medical personnel are at the greatest risk of infection, and that health care system is the loser when they must stop work and self-isolate because of exposure. So, can a doctor refuse to treat a patient because he or she lacks the personal protective equipment necessary to do so safely? And what can medical personnel do when they see dangerous conditions in the facilities where they work?
The dilemma a doctor faces is real. In the regulations governing the practice of medicine in the District of Columbia, a doctor is simultaneously told that she may not “willfully or carelessly disregard the health, welfare, or safety of a patient” and, also, that she must, “conform to the prevailing standards of acceptable medical practice.” DCMR 17-4612.7-8. In the face of this crisis, it is unclear whether a doctor complies more acceptably with that guidance by treating a patient despite lacking PPEs, or refuses to do so because he does not have this standard equipment necessary to protect the patient, himself, and any patient he might subsequently be called upon to treat. Medical professionals will have to decide for themselves whether treating patients without the requisite protective gear, is more, or less, consistent with their ethical obligations or D.C.’s regulations. However, the risk they run is that a licensing board may in the future disagree with whichever decision they make. That risk is one that Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch can help them face by providing experienced representation to the licensing board, if their responsible choices are later challenged.
Whatever medical workers decide, they need to know that, like all workers, they retain—even in this crisis—the right to raise concerns, whether with the safety of their workplace, the conditions under which they work, or the orders they are given for performing their job. Still more, they may not be retaliated against for such reports properly, and timely, lodged. If you need to make a report of unsafe working conditions or if you face retaliation or a challenge to your license, Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch has long experience advising professionals and other employees about the best ways to disclose their concerns; how to pursue a retaliation claim; and how to meet the time limits that can be as short as 30 days for complaints arising from workplace health and safety, or environmental issues.
We’re here for you
We can assist with:
- Advising professionals and other employees about the best ways to disclose their concerns;
- Pursuing retaliation claims in the event employers retaliate; and,
- Meeting time limits that can be as short as 30 days for complaints arising from workplace health and safety, or environmental issues.
. 4612.6 A licensed physician shall not abandon a patient whose care a licensed physician has undertaken without giving notice to the patient far enough in advance of the discontinuation to allow the patient time to secure appropriate substitute care. 4612.7 A licensed physician shall not willfully or carelessly disregard the health, welfare, or safety of a patient. 4612.8 A licensed physician shall conform to the prevailing standards of acceptable medical practice as determined by the Board or a peer review panel appointed by the Board.