1. Worth, Tammy


Three new laws provide models for other states.


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Two years after a grand jury failed to indict physician Anna Marie Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo-the three women arrested in July 2006 on suspicion of killing patients by lethal injection in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina-three bills designed to protect health care workers during a disaster were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature. After the women were cleared by a grand jury last year, community pressure spurred lawmakers to craft the groundbreaking bills. The legislation was signed into law in June by Governor Bobby Jindal.


Act 539 amends the state's Good Samaritan law that previously protected only volunteers from civil liability. It now also shields nurses and physicians from litigation unless "gross negligence" or "willful misconduct" harms the patient. Act 538 protects physicians and nurses from civil liability while treating or evacuating patients when using "disaster medicine" protocols-those implemented when the number of patients exceeds a facility's normal capacity. And Act 758 creates a three-person Emergency-Disaster Medicine Review Panel consisting of a coroner, a medical professional, and a disaster-medicine specialist that will examine cases before criminal charges are levied against practitioners under suspicion.


Cathryn Green, a nurse who worked with Landry and Budo at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital when Katrina hit and helped to draft these bills as a cochairperson of the Committee for Disaster Medicine Reform, an advocacy group formed to enact these legislative changes in Louisiana, said that the laws reach beyond nurses and physicians. "Ultimately they support the patients, as well," she said. "If you don't have any doctors and nurses willing to stay behind, who is going to save the patients?"


The American Medical Association drafted model legislation in 2007 to help states to create their own bills that would shield physicians who work in disaster areas from liability (unless misconduct is deemed to be willful or negligent). And in 2007 the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws also amended the model Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act. According to the organization's Web site, six states have enacted the legislation and 10 states introduced it in 2008.


Green hopes these kinds of legislation will provide a model for other states dealing with a range of disasters, including bioterrorism.


Tammy Worth