The news media has reported extensively on the arrival of the Ebola virus in the United States, and has provided substantial detail about the first United States citizens to contract the virus. First, healthcare professionals volunteering in West Africa were infected. Then, the media reported that a network photojournalist had been exposed. They were whisked by charter jets to quarantine units in significant metropolitan hospitals. Then, it was a visitor to West Africa who happened to be taken for treatment to the emergency room of a substantial hospital. Next, it was two nurses from that hospital who came into contact with the patient.
Setting aside the healthcare crisis presented by the Ebola virus, hospitals and other medical facilities are facing a series of economic challenges – from educating personnel, to training staff, to alerting emergency personnel coming into contact with potential Ebola patients, to setting up quarantine units, to dealing with an occasional scare to, in the rare instance, actually dealing with a case of Ebola.
In the last instance, the medical facility will not only face extremely high expenses, but also a potential reputational hit whether the outcome for the patient is favorable or not. A recent report regarding the Dallas hospital where a patient recently died from Ebola cites a CDC official who said the 900-bed facility is down to only 300 patients.
Faced with these challenges, business managers of healthcare facilities are racing to explore all options for dealing with the multitude of economic risks. Following are some practical considerations for healthcare providers to consider:
- Assess your insurance coverage.
Providers should begin reviewing their workers compensation, general liability, business interruption, errors and omissions, directors and officers liability, employment practices liability, and other policies to determine where they may be exposed to uncovered losses. There may be significant exposures in each of these areas.
- Review the applicable law in your jurisdiction.
It is possible that courts could begin analyzing Ebola-related cases under a strict-liability standard because it will not be long before plaintiffs begin categorizing Ebola remediation as an ultra-hazardous activity. Treatment as an ultra-hazardous activity could further erode potential coverage under providers’ policies.
- Review available endorsements and policies to bridge coverage gaps.
Some insurers have begun providing Ebola-specific endorsements and policies. One example is business-interruption insurance.
- If providers elect to purchase new insurance coverage, they must review the policy language carefully.
Unsurprisingly, most of the available policies are not standard-form insurance policies. Providers need to take special care to ensure that the coverage actually provides the coverage sought.
- Review and revise, if necessary, crisis-management plans.
Healthcare providers need to address concerns arising from impacted patients or employees. The crisis-management plans also need to ensure that HIPAA and other state privacy laws are accounted for when communicating to the public.
- Review publicly available resources.
Public organizations such as the CDC, OSHA, United States Department of Health and Human Services, World Health Organization, and state and local health units are offering excellent resources. Some private organizations (such as this firm and insurance brokers) are emphasizing other considerations.
- Prepare for claims.
Providers need to ensure that the resources are in place to address claims as they arise. Claims management includes reporting to the proper insurers, reporting to regulatory authorities, crisis management, and financial considerations.
It is impossible to know at this point the extent of the claims or issues that will come from the Ebola virus. We do know that time is critical when the virus reaches a healthcare provider. It is imperative to have a plan in place and address the virus’s potential implications on the front end so that providers can immediately and affirmatively respond to issues as they arise. Planning on the front end can reduce financial exposure, virus-related exposure, claims uncertainty, and general uncertainty that comes from a new exposure.