You may recall that I posted a blog on volunteering in March, and a blog by Keith Carlson posted on June 28 also focused on volunteering. I have received several questions about volunteering and its legal ramifications since then.
In response to my blog, a reader shared that she had been volunteering at a not-for-profit agency. Her role was of an administrative nature, but the organization asked if she could undertake a nursing clinical role and provide assessments of its clients for depression, elder abuse and other conditions.
The reader’s concern was that she had her own professional liability insurance but was not sure if it would cover this type of volunteer role. She also emphasized that there were no policies or procedures in place for her in this new capacity.
The first concern this nurse should have when asked to provide volunteer nursing assessment is whether she is competent to perform the assessments. Although assessment is a skill all RNs use daily in their respective specialty areas, this nurse must determine if she is able to perform this professional responsibility with these particular conditions.
Competency is essential in the performance of any nursing care, whether voluntary or otherwise. The nurse should review her state’s nurse practice act to determine what the state board of nursing requires in relation to competency and volunteer work.
The nurse also should consult with other nurses in her state who may be providing such assessment services in a volunteer role. Their experiences and insight into how they carry out this role would be invaluable. So, too, would be determining if there is a local or state group of nurses who regularly provide volunteer nursing services and how they have handled the issues that might arise when doing so.
Also, a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney in her state could provide specific legal advice in terms of liability, the existence of a law that provides immunity from suit for health professionals who provide volunteer healthcare services, and other legal issues she might raise.
There is no doubt that the reader must consult with her current professional liability insurance carrier to determine if her current policy would cover her in this clinical volunteer role.
Even if the state has a law that provides immunity from suit in a volunteer role, if the nurse is sued, she must defend the suit and have it dismissed if she meets the requirements of immunity (e.g., no compensation, injury was due to “ordinary negligence”).
Insofar as a lack of policies and procedures are concerned, it would be a good idea to seek input from an RN employed by the facility, or through a clinical nurse consultant, to help establish such policies.
If you have volunteered your clinical services, how did you go about legally protecting yourself?
NOTE: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.