Ohio bill would mandate COVID-19 disclosure to first responders

The proposal comes after firefighters who transported the first patient in the state to die from the disease were not notified of the exposure


Jim Provance
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In reaction to Ohio's first confirmed death from coronavirus, a state lawmaker is urging his colleagues to back a bill that would require hospitals and local boards of health to notify first-responders when a patient they've treated is suspected of having a contagious disease.

“We need to make sure our first-responders stay healthy and are able to respond to the community's call for service,” said state Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R., Perrysburg). “In this case, it's my understanding that these first-responders did not find out this was a presumptive case from the hospital or department of health and heard about it instead through social media and media reports.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at a news conference at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Ohio lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require hospitals and health departments to notify first responders of COVID-19 exposure. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at a news conference at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Ohio lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require hospitals and health departments to notify first responders of COVID-19 exposure. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

Springfield Township firefighters who initially transported Mark Wagoner, Sr. to St. Luke's Hospital after a fall were not told by the hospital or the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department that Mr. Wagoner was subsequently treated as a presumptive coronavirus patient.

Mr. Wagoner, 76, died on March 18, and his family made the presumptive diagnosis public to alert those who may have come into contact with him. But it was not until the next day that tests confirmed that he was Ohio's first coronavirus fatality.

House Bill 563 is one of a number of measures introduced as part of Ohio's response to the pandemic. As it currently reads, the bill would require such notification in cases of a confirmed diagnosis as well as a presumptive positive for a contagious or infectious disease.

He plans to offer an amendment that would expand the requirement to cases in which there is a “high index of suspicion” of such infection.

He hopes that his fellow lawmakers will pass the bill by a super-majority to allow it to take effect immediately rather than have to wait the customary 90 days.

“Obviously, in times like these we begin to see things that may not have been previously addressed,” Mr. Ghanbari said.

Gary Wolske, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, called the bill a “great idea.”

“We need to protect our members,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, such a bill might run up against patient privacy protections. But in this case, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has waived penalties if a hospital does not protect a coronavirus patient's privacy when it comes to such things as notifying family, friends, and “others Involved in an individual’s care.”

Mr. Ghanbari's bill, in fact, could open a hospital or board of health to civil litigation for failure to provide notification in such a situation.

It remains to be seen how effective such a bill could be in the absence of a specific waiver of privacy protections.

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©2020 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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