Kansas health officials are trying to assure local health groups that a controversial bill dealing with infectious diseases needed an update to response protocols for occupational exposures. Some HIV advocates, however, aren’t completely sold.
The bill initially drew criticism from some gay rights and HIV groups because it removed a longstanding ban on quarantining people with HIV/AIDS.
The state’s epidemiologist, Charlie Hunt, met with local HIV leaders in Kansas City yesterday, where he emphasized that the final version of the new law is written in a way that would never allow people with HIV to be quarantined.
“Any isolation and quarantine actions would have to be ‘reasonable and medically necessary.’ So that would not be appropriate for people with HIV,” Hunt said.
Hunt said the point of the bill is to update protocols for when a health worker is exposed to all sorts of infectious diseases. Previously, state law only addressed HIV. The new bill would also call on Hunt to develop more specific response rules for different types of diseases.
After the meeting, Holly Weatherford, with the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said clarifying these protocols, especially for HIV, would be a step in the right direction.
“I’m more optimistic about the rules and regulations process,” Weatherford said. “I think what Mr. Hunt said moves us further along than where we were when we were sitting in a conference committee a couple weeks ago.”
Hunt's verbal assurance to the group was enough for some people, but it wasn't for Zori Rodriguez, who oversees a regional housing program for people with disabilities and HIV.
“I’ve already heard from two clients who are afraid,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the bill passed by the Kansas legislature isn’t as bad as she originally thought, but she worries that removing the HIV quarantine ban sends a troubling message - one that could pave the way for abuse and violations of patients' privacy.
Rodriguez says she’ll be keeping an eye on the rules that Hunt and the state health department would develop for specific diseases and hopes more safeguards would be put in place for HIV.
The bill has been sent to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
If he signs the bill into law, which is likely, the state health department plans to have the new rules out by the end of the year. The process would include public input.
CORRECTION: In the original version of the story, Kansas House Bill 2183 was called a law at several points in the story and in the title. The bill has been passed by both chambers of the Kansas legislature and has been sent to the governor's desk. Gov. Brownback is likely to sign the bill but has yet to do so.