Local MLA Norm Letnick says its time paramedics, firefighters and even Good Samaritans in B.C. know whether the people they help have diseases if they come in contact with that person’s body fluid in the course of helping him or her.
Letnick, the MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country, has introduced a private member’s bill that would enable emergency workers and others who help people on the street to apply for a court order to force those being helped to undergo testing if required.
“Seems like a no brainer, eh?” said Letnick, who noted Nova Scotia has had such legislation in place since 2004, Saskatchewan since 2005, Ontario and Alberta since 2006 and Manitoba since 2008.
He said in the other jurisdictions, because of the legislation, often an emergency worker does not have to resort to the courts to force testing and to provide the results, the people helped do it voluntarily.
Currently in B.C., when a paramedic or a firefighter assists someone and comes in contact with that person’s body fluid, such as blood, all they can do is go to their own doctor for tests and be placed on lengthy and sometimes expensive precautionary medicine. Depending on the medicine, that regime can last for up to six months.
Letnick said he has already collected information about instances in the past to support his bill including one case where a paramedic had a patient’s blood coughed up into his eyes and another where blood entered a paramedics mouth.
“We never hesitate to call 911 when we need help,” said Letnick.
“Our emergency responders told us they need this protection, and it was time to help them for a change.”
Letnick said, based on the applause he received from both sides of the legislature earlier this week when he introduced his private member’s bill, he expects it should pass easily.
His proposed legislation was also received well by the people it will directly affect.
“Today is a great day for fire service personnel and other emergency service workers in British Columbia,” said Kelowna Professional Firefighters Association president Larry Hollier who was in Victoria to hear Letnick speak in the Legislature. “The introduction of this bill will alleviate many stresses, not only to the affected member, but the family as a whole.”
The president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. Bronwyn Barter, said the stress such incidents place on emergency workers and their families can be terrible.
“We are left with uncertainty and it could be six months to find out the results of tests and different issues at home because of the uncertainties,” said Barter.
Letnick said one of the biggest concerns with the bill will be the protection of privacy for those affected.
To that end, he said the 20-page bill includes rules that only allow the medical information to be shared between the person being tested, his or her doctor, the person asking for the test and his or her doctor.
He said potential penalties for inappropriate release of information could carry fines or even a jail term. The local MLA said he consulted with B.C.’s privacy commissioner prior to crafting his bill.
Now that it has been introduced, Letnick will gather more information over the summer to support it for when it returns to the Legislature for debate and a vote in the fall.