SOURCE: Hawaii Tribune

With little fanfare, Gov. David Ige on Sept. 1 signed an executive order that releases Hawaii’s health care workers and facilities from civil liability during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the order, health care facilities, professionals and volunteers are directed to “render assistance in support of the state’s response to the COVID-19 emergency.”

For health care facilities, that means canceling or postponing elective surgeries, implementing the state’s “crisis standards of care triage allocation” as deemed appropriate by each facility, and conserving scare medical resources, such as oxygen, at the direction of the state Department of Health.

Ige also ordered that health care facilities, professionals and volunteers, “that in good faith comply completely with all state and federal orders regarding this emergency, shall be immune from civil liability” for any death, injury or property damage alleged to have been caused by any act or omission in responding to the COVID-19 emergency.

The order, however, does offer provisions to account for death, injury or property damage caused by willful misconduct, gross negligence or recklessness.

The COVID-19 surge has pushed Hawaii’s health care system “to the maximum,” Ige said during a press conference Friday.

“They are stretched thin,” he continued. “My executive order does outline next steps of what would happen. It does provide for and acknowledge (a) crisis management situation where care would have to be provided and rationed, if you will, if we are unable to reduce the census that we see in the hospital — those that need care and certainly would overwhelm the health care system.”

Ige said the order was made in anticipation of worsening conditions.

“We obviously would prefer not to get to that level, but my emergency order does provide the framework for what actions we would have to take if we were unable to control the COVID cases all across the state,” the governor said.

Dan Brinkman, Hawaii Health Systems Corp. East Hawaii Regional CEO, said he didn’t think the order was designed to rationcare.

Rather, he said, Hawaii’s hospitals have been operating at or beyond capacity. While not lowering the standard of care, Brinkman said adjusting routine operations to ensure care for patients — for example, using additional spaces for intensive care patients or using the emergency room to hold patients longer — can make health care providers nervous that some patients might not be happy with their outcomes.

“I think by putting this protection in place, it relieves a lot of stress and anxiety of the caregiver,” Brinkman said.

He said Ige’s executive order is “a reasonable step during a crisis.”

“It’s important to make sure the physician or nurse or any other health care provider that’s caring for COVID patients in an emergency, when their resources are stretched, that they not feel because the environment isn’t perfect, that somehow they’re liable when they’re doing their best.”