AIDS test for health workers, patients to be proposed, Schaefer tells council

September 20, 1991|By Jonathan Bor

An article yesterday about the governor's AIDS Advisory council misstated Mr. Schaefer's reference to opposition to legislation that would require many health care workers and patients to undergo testing for the AIDS virus. Actually, he said he realized that some members objected to testing and that it was generally controversial among the council.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer told his new AIDS Advisory Council yesterday that he intends to propose legislation requiring many health-care workers and patients to get tested for the AIDS virus -- even though he realizes that most of the council members disagree.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"Let me make it clear: I'm for testing," Governor Schaefer said during an appearance before the 23-member council at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. "There can be no mistake about it."

Mr. Schaefer said he favored testing health-care workers because he recognizes that many people are afraid of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) during a medical procedure. In turn, he said, doctors, nurses and technicians have told him that they should also have the opportunity to learn which patients pose a risk to them.

Deputy State Health Secretary Robert W. Eastridge said that the bill was a top administration priority and that he might have a first draft ready to show the council at its next meeting on Oct. 7.

The draft would give the first glimpse at how the Schaefer administration will answer such complex questions as who should be tested and how much the testing would cost taxpayers. Mr. Eastridge said the administration was "plowing virgin ground" in its rush to determine which procedures pose risks to patients and health-care workers.

Generally, he said, the testing proposal will target health-care workers and patients facing "invasive" procedures that involve the spillage of blood -- most abdominal and chest surgeries, for example. But he said many thorny questions remain, such as whether tooth extractions and cleanings also pose a risk.

Mr. Schaefer encouraged the panel's 23 members to give him firm, honest advice about policy, not to shrink from telling him what he may not want to hear. But he said their bluntness would be reciprocated: "You get what I'm saying, and if you don't . . . I'll tell you more forcefully."

Meanwhile, the governor urged the panel to focus their attention on treatment, public education and ways to prevent further transmission.

Several members of the council -- including its chairman, Dr. Richard Johnson -- said testing is unwarranted because it feeds unfounded fears that health-care workers pose a significant risk to patients. Dr. Johnson, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that "99.9 percent of the cases" are transmitted by unprotected sex, dirty needles and pregnant women infecting their babies.

"I do not regard my firm opposition to mandatory testing as a bias," added Dr. Jack Zimmerman, chief of surgery at Church Hospital. "It's based upon the facts. The public has to be told how they don't get AIDS as much as they need to be told how they do. Until then, we will have preposterous proposals" such as mandatory testing.

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