Parker County Lifecare EMS paramedic Chris Briggs recently testified in support of the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, or Senate Bill 6, aimed at protecting first responders.
“We were very proud that out of all the EMTs in the state of Texas, Chris was selected by the bill’s proponents to represent first responders,” Parker County Hospital District CEO Randy Bacus said. “He did an outstanding job of representing the hospital district and his fellow first responders.”
Briggs provided his written testimony to the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee on SB 6 last month. The bill exempts certain health care providers from liability for any act or omission relating to harm arising from exposure to, or infection by, COVID-19 — unless the provider was reckless or grossly negligent.
“Every day, we deal with sick and injured patients that are facing an emergency. However, during this pandemic, we’ve been rendering emergency care amidst an ongoing, non-stop crisis,” Briggs testified. “COVID has changed our treatment options, and compounded our workload, physical and mental stress.”
Senate Bill 6 was filed on March 10 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
Bacus said the act will provide legal protection for first responders who acted in good faith while caring for patients.
“First responders who tried to diagnose, treat and/or transport COVID patients may have exposure to lawsuits because of claims that they should have used a different treatment protocol or should have managed those patients better to prevent further COVID spread,” he said.
Briggs said as paramedics, they’ve had to learn on the fly and deal with a steady stream of unknowns and put themselves at risk when answering a call because every patient seen could potentially be an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier.
“First responders should not be expected to have known or overcome every COVID concern. Unless we act recklessly, paramedics deserve a higher standard of care when rendering treatment during this pandemic,” according to Briggs’ testimony. “One mistake and we put ourselves and our colleagues at risk. One mistake could eliminate an entire shift at work and patients would lose critical care. One mistake could mean that we’re taking the virus home to our loved ones.”
Briggs said 15 of about 70 paramedics he works with have contracted COVID-19 in the past year — fortunately, all recovered from the virus. However, this leaves others to pick up shifts.
“When you’re tired, you’re more apt to make a mistake,” according to his testimony. “Parker County residents are now left with two less than ideal choices: Either no one responds to your emergency, or you get an exhausted paramedic.”
First responders and all other health care providers fighting the pandemic shouldn’t have the added stress of being sued, Bacus said.
“It will also allow the hospital district to focus on treating COVID patients and distributing vaccines to every willing person in Parker County instead of redirecting our time and resources to fight lawsuits,” he said.
Briggs said ultimately, paramedics have been learning as they go and are doing the best they can taking every step known to protect themselves, patients, their families, colleagues and community.
“This pandemic has produced many unique, extenuating and trying circumstances for us all,” according to his testimony. “Paramedics should not be held liable for any lapse in patient care or safety unless that care is grossly lacking. Please protect us. Please vote in favor of SB 6.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Senate Bill 6 was still in Stage 1 and not yet out of the Senate committee. After moving out of the committee, the bill will be voted on by the Senate and then go onto the House before the governor takes action — in total, a seven-step process.
This is the second bill filed relating to first responders and their risks working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Bill 22, the First Responders Pandemic Care Act, was filed by Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, last month and would provide first responders who die or suffer complications related to the virus with compensation or benefits associated with treatment costs.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw first responders step up to the plate and bravely address the many unknown risks of treating COVID-19 and they have not slowed down since,” according to a statement from Springer. “Reporting to work during a pandemic shouldn’t result in unaffordable medical expenses for first responders, which is why I filed SB 22.”
Springer laid the bill out before the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday and was waiting on further action by the committee as of Thursday.
For more information on the two bills visit capitol.texas.gov.