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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, earlier this week I traveled with former Presidents Bush and Clinton to Houston and met countless hurricane survivors who shared heart-wrenching stories about their experiences. Too many of the hurricane survivors have lost their jobs, their homes, and for some, beloved friends and family members.

Hurricane Katrina served as another important reminder of man's inability to control the wrath of Mother Nature. Yet, our response to such calamitous events is completely within our control. Hurricane Katrina was the first disaster, the Nation's emergency response to Hurricane Katrina was the second disaster.

We have all watched TV reports of residents stranded, abandoned really, without food or water and medical care, while those charged with emergency response delayed and fumbled their duties. Many of the sick and elderly were left behind at the makeshift hospital inside the New Orleans airport, and others faced uncertainties regarding their own medical care while staying at temporary shelters in Houston.

The Nation's generous outpouring of support for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina is heart-warming. Yet, many of those who would volunteer their services have been thwarted by bureaucratic red tape from antiquated laws and regulations. My own office has received numerous complaints from constituents whose offers of service were refused. In particular, medical professionals, which are still so desperately needed in affected areas, were turned away from FEMA and not informed about alternative mechanisms for volunteering. These doctors also expressed concerns relating to licensure, liability, and their ability to take leaves of absence from their jobs.

The Federal Government should be doing everything possible to streamline the process by which trained medical personnel around the country can volunteer their services in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and any of the States where evacuees have been relocated. I have introduced legislation today, entitled the Hurricane Katrina Emergency Health Workforce Act of 2005, that will start this process.

There are five components to this bill. It would create a national emergency health professional volunteer corps, so that we will have a ready pool of volunteer doctors and nurses who are willing, trained, and certified to serve in times of disaster. My bill would provide liability protections to qualified health professionals and provide the same job protections that many Federal employees and members of the National Guard already have. Requirements for State licensure would be lifted for licensed doctors who travel to disaster stricken areas outside of their home States. In addition, the CDC would establish a national and easily accessible database with the names and contact information of doctors and nurses, as well as their specialties and licensures, around the Nation. Finally, recognizing that emergencies are often unpredictable, this legislation would grant the Secretary broad authority to suspend rules and regulations in order to get health professionals where they are needed and when they are needed.

Although we live in a changing and uncertain world, one constant remains--whether it be earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or sadly even terrorist attacks, the nation will surely face future devastating and cataclysmic events. We know now that the Nation's preparedness for such events in no way matches our ability to respond and mitigate human suffering and economic collapse. We must do better. I urge each of my colleagues to join me in passing this legislation.

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