Healthcare workers could face random drug tests in N.H.

A proposed law that would subject New Hampshire healthcare workers to four random drug tests per year was criticized as overly vague and expensive to providers during a hearing Tuesday.

Rep. Tim Copeland (R-Stratham) introduced the bill (HB 597) after 32 Exeter Hospital patients contracted hepatitis C from a healthcare worker who was injecting himself with drugs, then reusing the contaminated syringes on patients, the Associated Press reported. The so-called "serial infector" may have exposed hundreds of patients to the virus at 18 hospitals across several states.

The issues raised during the New Hampshire House Committee on Health Human Services and Elderly Affairs hearing included how to define healthcare workers and who would pay for the testing, the AP reported.

For one assisted-living facility, testing all employees four times a year would cost 1 percent of his annual profits, operator Gary Cahoon testified.

A spokeswoman with the New Hampshire Association of Counties said the group could not support the one-page bill without knowing more specifics, noting employers already can test workers if they have probable cause to suspect drug use, AP noted.

Although the New Hampshire Hospital Association did not take a position on the bill, association president Steve Ahnen told the committee that any solution "requires a multi-pronged, collaborative approach among healthcare providers, regulators, law enforcement and others." He also testified that medical providers can develop their own policies for safer handling and securing of controlled substances, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the state ACLU, criticized the bill as lacking any systems for protecting workers' due process or allowing them to appeal drug-test findings, according to the Union Leader. She also called random drug tests an invasion of privacy, versus tests conducted when a worker is suspected of abusing drugs.

Bill sponsor Copeland is working with a healthcare steering committee to address some of the concerns, the Union Leader reported. A hearing on amendments to the bill is scheduled for March 5.

To learn more:
-here's the text of the bill
-read the AP report
-check out the Union Leader report