With all of the exciting work we have going on at CHHS, the Center is going through what you might call a “growth spurt” – we are hiring new employees left and right, and I am one of them. It’s been six weeks since I started and so far, I am loving being a Law & Policy Analyst at CHHS. I do, however, have some experience in the field: like many of our other employees, I served as an extern at CHHS while I was still in law school. Thus, I know a bit about what it’s like to work at the Center, but this time, I’m getting paid. It’s a nice change.
I love working at the Center because the work that we do in emergency preparedness is truly relevant as we confront the very real possibilities of pandemic influenza, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. Moreover, my colleagues are incredibly smart and dedicated, always thinking “outside the box” to develop new ways to address issues and solve problems. It’s a collaborative, not competitive atmosphere at CHHS; we support each other and we pull together as a team when we are under a tight deadline. As a newly minted JD, I feel lucky to have such a dynamic job where my work really does make a difference for the Center and for our clients.
Even as a new employee, I have been given lots of responsibility. For instance, one of my largest and most involved projects is revising the Maryland Public Health Emergency Preparedness Handbook, prepared for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. CHHS wrote the original Handbook in 2005, and we are in the process of reorganizing and updating the Handbook to address legal and policy-related advancements in public health preparedness. This revision is especially critical in light of last spring’s H1N1 outbreak, and will be helpful to public health officials as they prepare for this winter’s seasonal flu season and the likely reappearance of H1N1 cases.
In preparation for this revision, CHHS co-sponsored a symposium entitled “Legal Issues Concerning Public Health Emergencies 2009” in September. Public health officials, hospital administrators, and county attorneys attended the conference, where my colleagues Amy Major and David Mandell gave talks about issues such as the governor’s powers after an emergency has been declared, and liability and immunity for public health officials and volunteers. During the symposium, participants turned in questions which were discussed at a Q&A session at the end of the day. These questions addressed issues such as how to enforce a quarantine order, the release of private information, and liability and immunity for persons administering vaccine.
We are incorporating the issues raised at the symposium into our revision, in addition to other “hot” topics such as whether NIMS compliance serves as a waiver of liability, whether sheriff’s departments are obligated to enforce health officials’ orders, and how standards of care are altered after the declaration of an emergency for the general population and the special needs population. We hope our reorganization of the Handbook will make it more user-friendly for our audience.
My time at CHHS thus far has been a great start to my legal career, and I look forward to many more opportunities in the future as a member of CHHS.