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First Responders Need To Be Protected From Hiv Infection

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on March 24, 2005:

Senator Dyson It took me about two seconds to agree to co-sponsor a bill introduced by Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton that will do much to protect the health of our volunteer fire, rescue and EMS “first responders.”

I was even more convinced that I made the right decision to sign on to this bill when it had its hearing before my committee -- the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee -- this week. Numerous volunteer fire, rescue and EMS members were in Annapolis to support the bill. In fact we had two of our Southern Maryland Volunteer firefighters, Bobby Balta and Danny Davis, sit in on the hearing.

In short, Senate Bill 718 requires a hospital to order an HIV test if there has been an exposure between a patient and a health care provider or between a patient and a first responder before the patient is admitted to the hospital.

Our “first responders” never refuse medical aid to anyone who needs it. But if they believe there is reason they may have been exposed to HIV while responding to an emergency, they should have the right to know if their own health is in jeopardy so they can seek immediate help to suppress possibly contracting a virus that leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [AIDS].

The Professional Firefighters of Maryland, who represent more than 10,000 active and retired professional firefighters, fire officers and EMS personnel are strongly supportive of this bill. They recognize that they “should have no less protection than the health care worker who receives the person in the emergency department or the emergency medical technician at the scene of the fire or accident,” according to their testimony.

This issue is vital for our first responders. Maryland’s health care workers include more than 58,000 nurses, 15,000 practicing physicians, 30,00 first responders and 165 infection control professionals, according to the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

The MIEMSS reports that in 2003, Maryland ranked third highest in the U.S. for reported AIDS cases at 28.5 per 100,000 residents. They also believe that “post-exposure drug treatments administered to an exposed health care worker can be beneficial in decreasing the rate of HIV infection. However, these therapies must be initiated within hours of exposure.

Some have questioned whether this bill is constitutional, citing privacy issues. According to a Maryland Attorney General’s opinion it is constitutional.

Also, several other states such as Florida, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia have similar laws on the book. Maryland would just be joining that list of states who realize the importance of this issue.

In light of all of this alarming evidence, I see no reason why this crucial bill to protect those who protect us, many of them on a volunteer basis, should not pass.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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