Schaefer backs forced AIDS tests Some in advisory group favor voluntary testing.

September 20, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Mandatory testing of many health care workers and hospital patients for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, "is important enough that the money to pay for it will be found," says Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

But, in his first meeting with 18 members of his new advisory council on prevention of human immunodeficiency virus and treatment, the governor last night failed to discuss a testing bill .. that state health officials are preparing. He also did not elaborate on the expected steep cost of testing and who would pay -- the state or hospitals.

"Let me make it clear -- I'm for testing," Schaefer said, noting that the bill would be presented to the General Assembly in January.

The advisory council members, many of whom have expressed opposition to mandatory testing, listened attentively but made few comments.

However, after the governor left, discussion by council members made it clear they feel the issue will be delicate and difficult to handle.

Nevertheless, the council placed the controversial question at the top of its agenda for its next meeting, scheduled at 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at the O'Conor State Office Building, 201 W. Preston St.

"It seems to me the issue is mandatory vs. voluntary testing and this is an urgent matter," said Dr. Jack Zimmerman, chief of surgery at Church Hospital and a holdover member from the original AIDS advisory council disbanded by Schaefer last spring.

"Mandatory testing and the related issue of education need to be up front. We have to get them out of the way."

Earlier, Schaefer told the group: "I want a program that leads to education, treatment and hope. The general public is afraid of this serious disease. It's still nervous about the situation.

"I want some practical answers from you. Some of you may not like the direction I'm going in. If you don't, do what you have to do, but also do what I want. I don't like the misconceptions people have. We've got to tell them what we know."

Schaefer dismantled the AIDS council that had been in operation since 1987, saying "it placed too much emphasis on confidentiality and was not interested in making the general public aware of the AIDS problem."

Deputy State Health Secretary Robert W. Eastridge, a new council member, said the mandatory-testing bill being drafted was "a top priority" and he might have the first draft to show the council at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Zimmerman, who opposes mandatory testing, said that the council does not need a piece of paper to come to its conclusions.

Eastridge said the testing measure will target health-care workers and patients facing "invasive procedures" -- those that are bloody, such as heart and orthopedic surgeries. And, although root canals and tooth extractions have been classified by the federal government as invasive, he said he is not so sure they pose a risk.

Dr. Don-Neil Brotman, a Baltimore dentist and one of Schaefer's new council appointments, said he does not see any indication for mandatory testing at this time.

"I have not seen any information that shows there is a risk of a patient getting the disease from health-care workers practicing their profession,'Brotman said.

Another new member, Charles Wilkerson, an Anne Arundel County high school teacher, said he had come leaning toward mandatory testing, but listening to other council members had changed his mind.

"I'm astounded at the ignorance of teen-agers about this disease and what our school system has not done," Wilkerson said. "Sticking little units in family health programs is just not doing it. I want us to come up with something that will reach teen-agers. It's desperately needed."

Other council members known to be against mandatory testing or expressing their opposition at the meeting are: Merry Coplin, deputy commissioner of the Maryland Division of Correction; state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Balto. Co.; Dr. John G. Bartlett of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions; Dr. Richard Johnson, the council chairman, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Also, Curt Decker, lawyer and activist in the gay community; Dr. John A. Johnson, a pediatrician and immunologist who runs the Pediatric AIDS program at the University of Maryland Medical Center; and Dr. Fred Gill, an infectious disease specialist from Montgomery County.

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