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ADA offers support for ‘Good Samaritan’ bill

March 27, 2018

By Kimber Solana

Washington — The Association offered its support for legislation that would limit the liability of volunteer health care professionals, including dentists, when treating victims during a disaster.

In a March 22 letter addressed to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Association leaders said the H.R. 1876, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2017, if signed into law, would also enhance the protections afforded to volunteers in the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.

The enactment of the Good Samaritan law could encourage more dentists to volunteer as emergency health professionals, wrote ADA President Joseph P. Crowley and ADA Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin.

“Dentists receive a sound general medical background during their professional education and fully capable of triaging patients, taking patient medical histories, suturing wounds, making diagnosis on the basis of clinical signs and symptoms, and performing many other non-forensic clinical duties,” Drs. Crowley and O’Loughlin wrote, in recognizing the roles dentists can play when a community’s basic medical infrastructure is overwhelmed or suddenly compromised.

Unfortunately, they added, the legal and financial liability associated with claims of harm for certain acts or omissions can deter dentists from joining in the medical and public health response to disasters.

“Professional liability insurance generally does not cover activities performed outside those authorized by state dental practice acts, especially across state lines,” the letter said. “Additionally, ‘Good Samaritan’ laws vary by state and may not afford adequate protections for dentists who act as primary responders in these disaster situations.”

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in April 2017, would grant immunity from civil actions — except in cases of negligence, incompetence or willful misconduct — for damages resulting from the good faith treatment of disaster victims, the letter said.

“This is an important step in the right direction to optimize our nation’s medical surge capacity,” Drs. Crowley and O’Loughlin said.