Senate panel OKs bill on AIDS tests, patients


ANNAPOLIS -- A Senate committee approved yesterday a bill allowing health-care workers to request AIDS tests for patients they feel may have accidentally infected them, although the patient can refuse.

But the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee killed another bill requiring the testing of every patient and medical worker involved in a situation where an exposure of blood or body fluids has occurred.

The committee also killed a bill that would have required that bodies transported to mortuaries be labeled for infectious diseases.

It approved a bill requested by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene striking down existing law requiring medical laboratories to make monthly reports on testing for the AIDS virus.

The department said reports from the laboratories were incomplete and duplicated information gathered from other sources, such as reports from doctors, health clinics and surveys of jail inmates.

"It was sparse. It wasn't done right. Some did, some didn't," Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said of the information obtained from the laboratories. "It wasn't useful or valid."

But the committee amended the department's bill to keep on the books a requirement that maintains the confidentiality of anyone tested for the AIDS virus.

Senate Bill 203, which allows medical workers to request that a patient be tested, states that medical workers must first tell the hospital's chief executive officer, or a designated official, before seeking to have the patient tested. Once hospital officials are informed, another doctor will then confirm that the worker actually was exposed to the patient's blood or body fluids.

After this is done, the patient will then be asked to submit to a blood test. The patient can agree to the test or reject it.

Dr. John G. Bartlett, chief of the infectious diseases division at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said during a hearing that about 85 percent of the patients agree to have their blood tested.

Another 10 percent of the patients are either dead, comatose or medically incompetent. In those cases, doctors must seek consent from someone authorized to decide on that person's medical care.

While the bill sets up provisions for testing patients, there is as yet no legislation for testing medical workers.

"It may well happen, if not this year," said Senator Hollinger. "It may be the issue to deal with next year."

Last year, Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, a well-known cancer surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Dr. Almaraz had about 1,800 patients.

Of those, the hospital has tested about 200 patients and found none who were infected.

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