The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 31, 2012

‘Good Samaritan’ law should be changed, panel told

Testimony: Liability should be waived for out-of-state doctors who offer aid

Missouri law should be changed to allow out-of-state doctors and nurses to treat injured people in an emergency without fear of liability, a state commission was told Tuesday during testimony about response to Joplin’s 2011 tornado.

The testimony came during a public hearing of the Interim Commission on Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery. It was held at Corley Auditorium in Webster Hall at Missouri Southern State University.

Keith Stammer, emergency management director for Joplin and Jasper County, and Dwight Douglas, general counsel for Freeman Health System, both said the change would cut red tape that affects medical care in a disaster or emergency, particularly in areas that are close to other state borders.

Stammer told the commission he would encourage the Legislature to adopt changes to the state’s “Good Samaritan” law to allow doctors and nurses who are licensed in other states to treat people in Missouri during an emergency with immunity from malpractice lawsuits. Without immunity from liability, medical professionals might be hesitant to assist or run the risk of being sued for doing so without a Missouri license, he said.

State Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, said legislators talked in the 2012 session about passing legislation that would waive required state certification for 30 or 60 days after a disaster or emergency and allow out-of-state medical professionals to come into the state to help. He is a member of the commission.

Douglas, also a member of the commission, spoke about the experience the night of the tornado at Freeman Hospital West. Joplin’s other hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, was destroyed in the tornado. Douglas said the Freeman staff treated 800 people in the 36 hours after the storm. There were 135 doctors from Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas who came to Joplin the night of the tornado or the day after to help.

Douglas cited a Florida law as an example of the type of law he thinks Missouri should have.

After the meeting, Stammer said the law currently states “that if you see someone in need and render aid to them to the best of your ability, then they can’t come back on you for malpractice. The problem is if you’re licensed in another state and come to Missouri and see someone who needs help, who’s covering that doctor liability-wise? If he or she is not credentialed in Missouri, they run the risk of being accused of malpractice.”

Douglas, after the meeting, said he favors a Florida law as an example for Missouri because it has been interpreted to allow guest doctors who render emergency care in a hospital to be protected from lawsuits.

Missouri’s law refers to “first responders” working at the scene of an emergency, but the definition of the scene does not specifically cite a hospital, Douglas said.

He also said hospitals should be allowed to grant temporary staff privileges to visiting doctors who wish to help in an emergency.

The commission also heard testimony from Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, and from Eric Winston and Celia Holland of New Creation Church.

Holland said the state should have advocates available to disaster survivors to help them locate the agencies and programs that can provide assistance and explain the rules of those programs.

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