May 17, 2005

Wyden Legislation Would Protect Volunteer Health Provides

Oregon faces a dire shortage of volunteer medical personnel;Senator's bill extends liability protections to volunteer physicians, othersto help Community Health Centers grow

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today introduced legislation to extend comprehensive medical liability protections through the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to volunteer physicians and medical personnel that are currently in for doctors and health providers who are paid for the same services. The Community Health Center Volunteer Physician Protection Act of 2005 aims to combat a dire shortage of health care providers in underserved communities; community health centers are often the only place for lower-income and uninsured Americans to turn for necessary medical treatment. "Community health centers and the volunteer medical providers who work at these clinics are a big part of what's right with the American health care system today," said Wyden. "This legislation will go a long way to bring up the numbers of volunteer staff at clinics throughout Oregon, to narrow the health gap between folks who often don't get the care they need- minorities and the poor - and those who do." Under current law, medical liability protections for health center physicians do not apply to medical personnel who volunteer at community health centers. Extending the liability protections to volunteer medical providers would remove a major impediment to the growth of the national Federal community health centers program. Currently many medical health providers opt not to volunteer without liability protections for fear of potential lawsuits brought against them for services they provided while volunteering. The National Community of Community Health Centers supports the bill, and estimates that in order to meet demand for Community Health Center services centers must double their workforce by adding 12,000 clinicians and 48,000 administrative staff by 2006. During a trip home to Oregon this month, Wyden visited the West Salem Community Health Clinic in West Salem, Ore. as well as the Lincoln County Community Health Clinic in Newport, Ore. During both of these visits Wyden met with clinic volunteers, employees and patients. Wyden has long been a strong supporter of Community Health Centers as a vital part of a health care system that works for all Americans. Wyden has long been a strong supporter of Community Health Centers as a vital part of a health care system that works for all Americans. As a member of the House, Senator Wyden authored the legislation that provided community health centers malpractice liability protection through the FTCA. He recently worked to get funding and implementation of a similar provision for volunteers in free clinics. The legislation is expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.