Hepatitis C response bill altered
Mandatory employee drug testing eliminated
August 27, 2013 2:00 AM
CONCORD — While two bills filed in response to the Exeter Hospital hepatitis C crisis are moving forward, one will progress with a drastically different look.
House Bill 597 would have originally required random drug testing for health care employees in the state, but it appears that the random drug testing part of the bill is now being taken out of the equation.
The bill has been in the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee since the spring, and in that time, the state Department of Health and Human Services and health care facilities have proposed an amendment that would only require the facilities to put in place a drug testing policy and a program for educating employees on drug addiction.
The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Tim Copeland, R-Stratham, said it’s likely the mandatory drug testing won’t happen.
“It will be weeks before anything is final, but it’s not leaning in that direction,” Copeland said. “It’s very disappointing, but you have to work with what you have. It’s give and take, sometimes you have to make concessions.”
Copeland said he is now focusing his fight on putting penalties in place for health care facilities that don’t have policies for drug testing or drug education.
“There has to be some sort of mechanism in place for compliance,” he said.
When discussions about the bill resume next month, Copeland said he would listen to the proposals of the health care facilities.
Copeland said if he doesn’t like the proposals, he has the option of reintroducing the original bill with the mandatory drug testing, but he called that an “uphill battle.”
“I’m still hopeful we can all come to some type of happy medium where I can live with what they have and they can live with what I kind of wanted,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t have it all when this process started; there’s too many personalities and health care facilities involved.”
Copeland’s second bill, HB 658, which is relative to registration for medical technicians, has remained mostly intact.
The bill would establish a “Medical Technician Registration Board,” that would be responsible for tracking individual health care workers in the state and maintaining a database of those workers not otherwise licensed or registered by the state.
That online database would keep the registrants’ information for 15 years, along with designation of “active, inactive, suspended, revoked or retired.”
The board would be responsible for accepting written complaints from the public against registrants, conducting necessary investigations and holding hearings. The board would also be required to share information with appropriate in-state and out-of-state boards.
“I’m very happy with that,” Copeland said. “Something needs to be done and I’m hoping for a positive result that other states will emulate and the federal government as well, because we really need a federal database.”
David Kwiatkowski, the former hospital technician who caused the hepatitis C outbreak last year at Exeter Hospital, recently pleaded guilty to federal charges and will be sentenced Dec. 3.
As a traveling technician, Kwiatkowski worked in at least 17 other hospitals in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas and Georgia from 2003 to 2011.
A total of 14 patients in Kansas and Maryland also have confirmed hepatitis C infections connected to Kwiatkowski.
Copeland said any law that can be passed to help prevent similar situations is better than doing nothing.
The bills will be discussed at the House committee’s next meeting in September. The bill must be out of committee by November in order to hit the floor for the House’s next session.