Legal Responsibilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Do They Apply to the Healthcare Sector?

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Across the globe, medical centers and healthcare facilities are working day and night to combat the ill effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of them would find it hard to function at all without their hard-working doctors, nurses, and allied healthcare staff. Many hospitals are now struggling to provide their workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as surgical masks, medical gloves, and Hazmat suits due to shortage, leaving medical staff to deal with patients without the proper protection. 

In some instances, doctors without the proper training for infection control or intubation may be asked to perform tasks outside of their areas of expertise. During national emergency situations, such as the coronavirus pandemic, many are now raising the question about whether legal responsibilities still apply to the healthcare sector.  

The Duty of Care

Doctors and healthcare providers took their Hippocratic oath and promised to provide care for patients whenever possible. It is part of their moral obligation to do so. As part of the medical community, their duty is to consider their patients’ welfare and interests. However, most of the problems arise when dealing with legalities. Because more often than not, there is fear about the legal ramifications of their actions. 

Since their duty of care does not provide a clear definition of what level of care they can afford, many would have second thoughts in doing advanced cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when their knowledge is limited, as they may only be trained in basic life support (BLS). In some cases, those without training for treating respiratory complications of the coronavirus would choose to not provide care because they fear the lawsuits that may face if they make a mistake. 

Hospitals are aware that, while many healthcare workers are bound by their duty, these duties have limitations. How much care can a healthcare worker provide under the circumstances? This depends on several factors:

Government and Hospitals

Hospitals have an obligation to ensure that their employees — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other employees — have the proper tools and equipment to keep them protected from harm. This includes providing them with PPE, better shifting schedules, and hazard pay. According to Joye Law Firm (www.joyelawfirm.com/north-charleston/), North Charleston hospitals that fail to ensure the proper care can open up their organization to lawsuits, requiring them to look for a law firm specializing in worker’s compensation to represent them in court. 

Hospitals and government agencies cannot force their staff to go to work when they cannot provide the necessary protection that they need. Employees should not be forced either. They should not be sanctioned for their choice. 

Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers who choose to work in high-risk settings have a higher level of obligation when it comes to caring for their patients. Accepting a risky job in the intensive care unit (ICU) or emergency department means that they are aware of the risks. This means they should provide patient care without questions and bias during a health crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Because there is an assumption that they are better trained to do so. 

Patients

Patients have a moral and legal obligation as well. Lying about their medical conditions to their doctors should be considered unlawful, especially if they are putting other people’s lives at risk with their current health condition. While they may not be legally bound to declare their health status, they should look at it as their ethical and moral duty. Adhering to the minimum health precautions, such as social distancing and wearing masks, must also be part of their responsibility in combating the disease. 

The spread of the coronavirus does not seem to be ending anytime soon, and all have moral, legal, and ethical duties to adhere to. Only a concerted effort can help combat the deadly COVID-19 virus. 

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