Adapting standards of care under extreme conditions

Kristine M. Gebbie, Cheryl A. Peterson, Italo Subbarao, Kathleen M. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The filing of criminal charges against a group of clinicians in New Orleans for failure to meet expected standards of care following the hurricanes of 2005 made the growing concern among health professionals about care provided during extreme emergencies or disasters all too real. Questions about what may lead to censure, penalties from licensing boards, or lawsuits have come from nurses, physicians, and many other licensed health professionals. A panel convened by the American Nurses Association that included representatives of medical, public health, hospital, and government agencies considered the ethical, professional, and practical aspects of meeting standards of care in such circumstances. Clinicians are reminded that in emergencies, it is only the circumstances that change (perhaps radically); neither the individual's professional competency nor the basic professional standard of care is different. In making prioritized decisions under such circumstances, the individual's ethical framework is utilitarian, and there are3 areas for action, even when some routine tasks are set aside: maintain worker and patient safety; maintain airway, breathing, and circulation; and establish or maintain infection control. Policy recommendations such as state legislation for the adoption of comprehensive immunity for volunteer health care workers, and the establishment of a medical review panel as arbitration board are also suggested. The resulting white paper summarizes the issues and provides guidance to individual professionals, institutions in which they work, and emergency planners. Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2009;3:111-116)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-116
Number of pages6
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009


  • Disaster
  • Emergency
  • Ethics
  • Preparedness
  • Professional Standards
  • Standards of care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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