There have been reports of EMTs and other healthcare personnel being charged criminally when they have failed to provide rescue or emergency care. Many nurses have wondered, “Am I required to provide emergency care in the event of an accident I witness?”
This topic has been debated for years, but the short answer is “Yes” – based on an ethical portion of the job as a healthcare provider. If there are no other emergency personnel at the scene, a nurse should, in ethical terms, provide response and support until an emergency team arrives. This does not mean that the nurse is responsible for the recovery or even survival of the injured/ill person, but that they should make every effort to contact emergency services, check on the person’s condition, and provide whatever first aid care that they are trained to offer.
Good Samaritan Laws are in place to protect both regular citizens and healthcare professionals that do offer assistance to injured or ill people in the event of an emergency. What the laws do is protect providers of first aid from litigation. For instance: If you stop to help someone that collapses on the sidewalk and they do not recover, your help cannot be held against you (unless you try to perform surgery on the sidewalk). Care that is within the scope of any person – covering a wound, CPR, Heimlich for choking, and other general first response methods – is not grounds for a lawsuit.
Now, on to the professional and legal terms. In many states a nurse is not required to offer assistance. If you witness an accident and are a nurse, you legally are not required to stop and help. You cannot be prosecuted for failing to help. Certain states have laws in place called ‘Duty to Rescue’: California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. These laws include regular citizens and their duty to contact law/emergency help. The laws are very basic in that most require that the witnesses are not asked to put themselves in danger. Healthcare personnel can be held responsible if they ignore someone’s cries for help, or do not at least try to contact 911 if there is an emergency or perceived emergency.
The thought remains – with or without legal liability, the ethical question is this, if you spend years training to help others why would you pass by an individual that needs help you can provide. This is the ethical portion of being in healthcare.