Legislation: Responding in times of crisis
National Report — Disasters can breed volunteerism, but sometimes bureaucracy and red tape can get in the way of the best intentions.
The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is working on a campaign to pass an act in each state that would clear the way for veterinary volunteers in a time of crisis.
The Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act (UEVHPA) was drafted by the ULC, a non-profit unincorporated association that has been working to create legal uniformity across the United States since 1892, after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.While Katrina devastated the Gulf of Mexico, many out-of-state doctors, nurses and veterinarians were prohibited from providing relief to understaffed local health-care organizations because of "red tape," according to the ULC.
Some health-care workers, set on volunteering their services, did so illegally, risking losing their licenses and even going to jail.
"The act would, in advance, establish a uniform, easily understood system that will provide for the recognition of professionals so people will know how it works and get in more quickly," says Raymond Pepe, Pennsylvania's ULC commissioner since 1983, an attorney with K&L Gates and chair of the drafting committee for the UEVHPA.
The goal of the UEVHPA is to remove the red tape and open doors between states in a time of need. Most ULC efforts take three or more years to complete, says Pepe, but given the unpredictability of when another disaster requiring volunteer efforts might occur, the group has expedited its process and so far has gotten the act passed in six states — Indiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee and Utah. It has been passed in both houses in Illinois, where it awaits the governor's signature, and was partially enacted in Minnesota. Other states expected to make a decision in 2009 include Arkansas, Florida, California, Washington D.C., Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and North Dakota, according to Pepe.
The UEVHPA establishes a system that allows health professionals to register in advance or during an emergency to provide services in an enacting state. Affected states can then use the services of these professionals, relying on the registration systems to confirm that the professionals are licensed and in good standing.
The system also makes arrangements to report problems, such as disciplinary actions, that might need to be taken against a volunteer by his or her home state. The act also addresses liability, compensation and reimbursement issues.
Some groups still are not on board with the uniform act, like the National Emergency Management Association, which Pepe says has concerns about how volunteers would be supervised and controlled. But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) gave its blessing after offering some suggestions about liability issues. Veterinarians almost were excluded from the act, Pepe remembers.
"When we were drafting, we initially did not focus on veterinary professionals," Pepe says. "Early on in the process, we heard from the AVMA and the bar association saying how important it was to provide for the deployment of veterinary professionals. So, the act was expressly broadened to make sure it included veterinary services.
The text of the act, which may be modified for passage in some states, can be viewed at http://www.uevhpa.org/.