2015 News

Nurses Volunteering at Massachusetts Disasters Deserve Protection, Emergency Responder RN Testifies at State House Hearing


When: Tuesday, November 17 at 10 a.m.

Where: State House, Gardner Auditorium

Who: Betty Sparks, RN at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Mary Crotty, RN MBA JD, Associate Director MNA

During the holidays two years ago, Betty Sparks was in the Philippines caring for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon in that country's modern history. Sparks, an OR nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, has been a registered nurse for nearly 40 years. She has volunteered at disasters around the world, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

But when it comes to volunteering in Massachusetts, Sparks has concerns.

"The environment in a disaster is very dangerous," Sparks said. "There are many safety concerns, people are in a panic and violence is a usual occurrence, as people try to get what limited resources are available. The physical workload is hundreds of times more stressful than our usual jobs. The last thing a nurse needs after leaving her family and her job to help out in a disaster is to come home injured and unable to work, causing financial ruin for their family."

When deploying to disasters as part of a federal medical disaster team, Sparks and other nurses become temporary government employees and gain protections against civil and criminal liability and inappropriate licensing discipline. The same is not true for nurses responding to Massachusetts emergencies. The Massachusetts Nurses Association is working to change that through legislation being heard Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Public Health – An Act relating to liability protection for disaster volunteers (S.1218/H.1956).

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Rush, D-West Roxbury and Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington, would apply to any official call for nurse volunteers, but is intended particularly to facilitate nurse volunteers who are often desperately needed to man emergency shelters. There are three ways that this bill will protect nurses who volunteer in disasters:

  • The bill offers protection from civil or criminal liability and/or prosecution for injury or harm caused to a patient
  • The bill would protect nurses who are injured or harmed personally as the result of his/her volunteer service.
  • The bill will protect nurses from inappropriate Massachusetts Licensure board discipline

Mary Crotty, a registered nurse, an attorney and a former director of Hospital Preparedness for the Massachusetts Hospital Association, will also testify in favor of the bill. Crotty is a member of the MNA's Emergency Preparedness Task Force. She will speak to why the legislation is crucial for ensuring that nurses are able and willing to volunteer under disaster conditions.

"Nurses should not have to risk their safety, their nursing license, their job and therefore their livelihood in exchange for offering their services to those in need in the time of disaster," Crotty said. "We call upon the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide these basic protections to nurse volunteers."