Online Program

Impact of legal protections on the public health workforce's willingness to respond during emergencies

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 11:00 a.m. - 11:15 a.m.

Lainie Rutkow, JD, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Carol Thompson, MS, MBA, Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH, Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Daniel J. Barnett, MD, MPH, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Effective response to public health emergencies is predicated not only on the public health workforce's ability to respond, but on its willingness to do so. Research points to major gaps in response willingness among vital occupational cohorts within the public health system, including the local public health workforce. We hypothesized that certain state-level legal protections--which do not currently exist--might influence public health workers' willingness to respond (WTR) during emergencies. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Public Health Services and Systems Research program, we surveyed approximately 1,100 public health workers in over 22 health departments across three states regarding their WTR to four representative disaster scenarios within the all-hazards spectrum, given the presence of the following legal protections: 1) laws granting preferential access to health care for dependents during and after an emergency; 2) laws guaranteeing access to mental health services for those who participate in an emergency response; and 3) laws requiring the provision of personal protective equipment as part of an individual's response duties. After adjusting for demographics, the presence of the above legal protections was associated with a 5- to 20-fold increase in the odds of WTR across the four disaster scenarios (all p<0.05). We will discuss the implications of these findings for state-level legal reforms intended to address contemporary preparedness challenges. This presentation is intended for audiences with and without legal expertise.

Learning Areas:

Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Occupational health and safety
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Describe the role of the local public health workforce in emergency preparedness and response activities. Explain how ability and willingness separately contribute to an individual’s decision to participate in an emergency response. Identify specific legal protections that may increase response willingness among the local public health workforce during a variety of disaster scenarios.

Keyword(s): Law, Disasters

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator of the study that funded this research. I am a public health lawyer with expertise in emergency preparedness.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.