I Saved A Life At The Airport, Here's What I Learned
In this episode of the Ask Nurse Alice podcast, host Alice Benjamin discusses Good Samaritan laws and the challenges healthcare professionals face when providing care outside of their clinical setting. She shares a personal experience of rendering care while off duty and emphasizes the importance of understanding the legal and liability aspects of being a good Samaritan. Tune in as Alice provides valuable insights and encouragement for nurses who may need to render emergency care outside of work.
What is the Good Samaritan Law?
The Good Samaritan Law offers legal protection to people who provide reasonable assistance to others who they believe to be injured, ill, or in danger. In addition to non-medically trained civilians, healthcare professionals are protected under the Good Samaritan Law with one caveat: they must not act outside of their professional scope of practice while rendering aid. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have Good Samaritan laws in place and these laws still apply while aboard a domestic aircraft and while traveling in domestic waters.
Nurse Alice shares a recent experience she had while traveling home from New Orleans. While obtaining her bags from baggage claim, Alice heard an overhead announcement asking if there were any medical professionals in the baggage claim area.
“I'm like, oh, surely thousands of people are in LAX. Somebody's obviously responded, right?” she recalls. “So I'm walking, but in my head, I'm like, ‘surely somebody's arrived. Somebody's going to do it.’ I'm not thinking like, ‘oh, let me go’… It's almost like being in the hospital, you hear a Code overhead. You hear it and you see people already running there. And so you're like, ‘oh, surely they got enough people. I don't need to come.’”
Nurse Alice reveals that even upon seeing the victim on the ground, she still felt hesitant to help.
“I love taking care of people, but I was dog tired… And for a moment I'm like, ‘I'm not responding. I don't need to. I don't have to. I'm not on duty,’” she explains.
Nurse Alice explains that many people, including healthcare professionals, would have walked by and refused to assist with the emergency.
“Some people would have maybe even wanted to respond, but like, ‘no, I'm not going to respond because of the legalities. I don't know what I'm getting myself into. I'm setting myself up for legal troubles.’ And even if they wanted to really, really help. So I think there's a lot of reasons why people like us healthcare professionals in our regular everyday lives off of duty don't necessarily respond to emergencies,” she says in the episode.
You can tune in to the podcast episode to hear the full story of how Nurse Alice assisted the victim until paramedics arrived on the scene.
Although nurses are not legally obligated to stop and help some during a medical emergency, some may feel a moral obligation to do so. Ethics, morals, and fear of legal repercussions all play a role in a nurse’s decision to assist in an emergency outside of work.
That is why it is so important for nurses to understand the protections of the Good Samaritan Law and how they can provide assistance to those in need while also limiting liability in the event of a lawsuit. In this episode, Nurse Alice expresses hope that nurses and other healthcare professionals who understand Good Samaritan laws will feel empowered and more willing to share their gifts if they come across an emergency while off-duty.
Understanding legal protection and liability
Nurse Alice explains that, if you choose to help someone while off-duty, you must be careful not to do anything that would be considered reckless or unreasonable.
“We have to ensure that the care given is appropriate and it's not reckless. So like, for example, if someone stopped breathing, heart stopped, obviously, initial CPR is appropriate. If someone stopped breathing and I decided I want to take my pocket knife out, put a little slit in the trachea area, take a straw and make a homemade trachea, no, that's gross negligence,” she explains.
The Good Samaritan Law only protects individuals who respond to an emergency with reasonable and appropriate interventions. Nurses and other healthcare professionals cannot act outside of their scope of practice when rendering aid while off-duty.
Also, if a person caused the accident, that person is not protected under the Good Samaritan Law, so it is not advisable for that person to offer any sort of aid to the other affected party, even if they are medically trained.
The value of assistance
Nurse Alice reiterates that the decision to help out in an emergency is personal and not legally required. However, she says that even just being present and offering assistance just in case can make an impact, especially if you consider that you are the best trained and most knowledgeable person available.
“You can make a difference and save someone's life. I know you're off duty, you're on vacay, you're ready to do this type of things, and you're not obligated to be a good Samaritan, but I would strongly encourage you to consider the gift, the skill, the knowledge, the gift that you have to help change the trajectory of someone's life. Under the protection of the good Samaritan law, I hope that that encourages you to speak up, even if you're not completely physically involved, to at least share your clinical expertise verbally to say what should happen, what should be done. I would hope that you would consider that and make that contribution to the community because we need you,” she encourages.