Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Shameless Congressman Continues To Oppose TB Protections

We reported recently of the death of a Virginia nurse from tuberculosis. The nurse had exposed co-workers and patients for months while no one noted that her violent coughing was a clear symptom of TB.

Dr. Kenneth G. Castro, director of the tuberculosis elimination division for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, called the death of the nurse "shameful."

That situation may have been "shameful," but I'd call the recent actions of Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS) "shameless."

For years, Wicker has been the leading foe of OSHA's TB standard. Although OSHA killed the standard at the end of 2003, the agency then decided that health care workers who may be exposed to TB were required to have respirator fit tests just as every other worker who must wear a respirator. The American Hospital Association, the Association of Profesionals in Infection Control (APIC) were aghast that they would be forced to fit test health care workers and appealed to Congressman Wicker for help. Wicker sent a letter to OSHA, protesting the respirator requirements. After considering a six-month delay, OSHA finally decided to start enforcing the reqirement on July 1. In a letter to APIC, Assistant Secretary John Henshaw rebuked APIC for opposing fit testing when it was already required for hospital workers exposed to ethylene oxide or formaldehyde.

Not to be outdone, however, Wicker managed to add the following advisory "report language" to OSHA's budget bill:
The Committee is disappointed by OSHA's decision to proceed with enforcement of the General Industry Respiratory Standard as it applies to occupational exposure to tuberculosis (TB). The Committee strongly urges the agency to delay enforcement of the Respiratory Standard as it applies to TB. Personal respiratory protections have been in place in healthcare facilities for over 10 years, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as enforced through OSHA's General Duty Clause. Additionally, the Committee strongly advises OSHA to take no further action with regard to TB until such time as the CDC has completed the ongoing revisions of its TB guidelines.

Subsequent actions should only be taken in accordance with the CDC's recommendations."
The language is not a "rider" to the bill, and is therefore not enforceable should OSHA decide to ignore it. So far, no similar language has been added on the Senate side.

SEIU health and safety director Bill Borwegan notes that Wicker
is also from a state that is completely surrounded by states with some of the highest rates of TB in the country, and he is the recipient of thousands of dollars in contributions from the likes of the American Hospital Association, American Dental Association and countless drug companies. God bless the poor people of Tupelo, and the rest of the 1st District of Mississippi.

I wonder how Congressman Wicker would explain his actions to the surviving family members of the nurse you died?