State has no money for hepatitis protection

November 17, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

The Maryland public safety department says it has not yet protected troopers and prison guards from hepatitis B, as required by state and federal law, because it doesn't have the money.

The department missed a Sept. 30 deadline for offering free vaccinations and special training to 8,000 employees who are at risk of being exposed to the infectious disease. Before the deadline passed, however, officials asked state Labor and Industry Commissioner Henry Koellein Jr. for permission to wait until March to comply with the law.

Commissioner Koellein, who may issue a decision this week, presides over the state agency charged with enforcing federal occupational safety rules.

He could grant the delay or require the department to comply with the regulation immediately.

Hepatitis B is a blood-borne virus that causes a potentially deadly liver disease. The virus is spread by contact with bodily fluids, primarily through sex and shared drug needles.

Troopers could be exposed to the virus at accident scenes, while correctional officers could be exposed when breaking up fights among inmates -- who are themselves at high risk for hepatitis B. The virus infects about 300,000 Americans a year.

Leonard A. Sipes, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency does not now have the roughly $1 million it would cost to provide vaccinations and pay troopers and prison workers overtime to attend training classes. But officials expect to find the money within the department's $351 million budget before spring, Mr. Sipes said.

"We fully intend to implement the [hepatitis] standards and begin the vaccinations as soon as humanly possible," Mr. Sipes said, adding that the state's fiscal problems made complying with the rule difficult.

Three state employee unions are urging Commissioner Koellein not to grant the delay.

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