The COVID-19 pandemic affected all Iowans, including those engaged in the practice of medicine. Individual practitioners bravely put themselves on the front line to combat a novel disease sweeping through Iowa. Hospitals treated more patients than they had before and worked around the clock to care for victims of the pandemic. Despite these efforts, legal experts predicted significant litigation would arise from missteps committed during the treatment of COVID-19 patients. To prevent this, the Iowa Legislature enacted the COVID-19 Response and Back-to-Business Limited Liability Act, Iowa Code §§ 686D.1-686D.8 (“the COVID-19 Act”). The purpose of the COVID-19 Act was to enable health care providers to deal with the pandemic in unprecedented ways without fear of litigation.
The COVID-19 Act provides immunity to health care providers who, directly or indirectly, cause injury or death “while providing or arranging health care in support of the state’s response to COVID-19.” More specifically, this immunity applies to “injury or death resulting from screening, assessing, diagnosing, caring for, or treating individuals with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19” and “prescribing, administering, or dispensing a pharmaceutical for off-label use to treat a patient with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.” This immunity even extends to acts or omissions while caring for non-COVID-19 patients, as long as the acts or omissions “support the state’s response to COVID-19.” However, this immunity does not apply to “any act or omission which constitutes reckless or willful misconduct.”
The COVID-19 Act includes examples of acts or omissions while caring for non-COVID-19 patients that support the state’s response to COVD-19, including:
- Diagnosing or treating patients outside the scope of a health care provider’s license to practice.
- Using medical devices or equipment outside their normal use.
- Providing treatment outside the premises of a health care facility.
- Providing care other than the level or manner of care that would ordinarily be required where the health care provider is unable to provide the required care due to a lack of staffing facilities, medical devices, equipment, supplies, or other resources attributable to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Act thus recognizes that the pandemic has stretched the health care system to a breaking point. The resulting lack of personnel and resources has required providers to find unusual solutions for medical needs and, in some cases, to compromise the quality of care they are able to provide. The Iowa Legislature has, through the COVID-19 Act, sought to protect health care providers from liability for the inevitable harm caused by these extraordinary circumstances. This has, in turn, freed health care providers to be more daring and innovative in finding solutions to an overwhelmed system.