SAN FRANCISCO: Coroner Reusing Syringes
"The San Francisco medical examiner's office is illegally forcing its employees to reuse disposable needles that can transmit HIV, hepatitis C and other deadly infections through accidental needle injuries," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The practice is the result of an office policy instituted by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Boyd Stephens, despite an eight month-old order by the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration to purchase disposable needles. His staff claims they fear for their safety, as "diseases can infect examiners pricked accidentally with needles used repeatedly on cadavers -- even when the needles have been cleaned." The danger is only exacerbated, they say, by the fact that they chiefly investigate "unnatural deaths," which often involve the homeless, indigent and drug addicts, who have a greater propensity to be infected. Dr. Robyn Gershon, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins said, "[R]eusing disposable needles is just a stupid, stupid cost-reduction effort."
The Tip Of The Iceberg?
According to the Chronicle, Cal OSHA has also ordered a number of other safety measures for the office, but Stephens has not complied. The agency "ordered Stephens to shield workers from airborne tuberculosis bacteria with respirators and to protect them from the blood spray caused by circular saws that cut bone." Stephens has delayed implementation by appealing all of the orders, but on April 21, he agreed to withdraw the appeal. He said that "he is working on a plan to provide employees with respirators," and that the department now uses "a vacuum extraction saws" and is working with OSHA to upgrade the "30-year old ventilation system." With respect to the needles, Stephens claims that using disposables would exceed his budget constraints. "For us to throw away every syringe would cost the taxpayers money," he said. Budget analyst Harvey Rose, however, said using disposable needles "would cost $9,959, which could be absorbed in the existing budget" (Carlsen/Holding, 5/8).