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A Question of Refusing to Care for a Patient

There may be a time in your career when, for personal reasons, you don’t want to care for a particular patient who has AIDS, TB, or other infectious diseases. But can you legally refuse to treat that patient? The answer depends on several factors. 

If you work for a walk-in clinic, home health agency, or hospital, you—and you employer—generally lack the legal backing to deny care to such a patient. That’s because the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against people with infectious diseases. And the Rehabilitation Act imposes the same duty on healthcare facilities that receive Medicare and other federal funds. Refusing to care for such a patient could result in a charge of insubordination or outright dismissal. You can always ask for a different assignment, although your employer is not obligated to honor your request. The employer may be obligated, however, if your facility has a policy that allows healthcare providers to be reassigned in certain circumstances, such as when an immunosuppressed staffer requests that she not be assigned to infected patients.

Be aware, though, that once you start treating a patient, you’re legally responsible for him until he has been placed in the care of someone else. If you refuse to continue treatment, you could be endangering the patient and face an abandonment charge. What’s more, in an emergency on the job, you must provide treatment, regardless of any personal objections you may have.​

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