All state prisoners will be tested for AIDS, and those who test positive will be segregated if the Legislature passes a bill approved Wednesday by the Health Interim Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden, calls for mandatory, rather than voluntary, testing for AIDS when a prisoner is admitted to the facility, and then again six months later.The prison has tested only 5-10 percent of the prison population. Eight or nine inmates tested positive. Two died in custody; one was given a hardship release to a nursing home. One patient's AIDS treatment cost 12 percent of the prison's medical budget before he died.
While the new program could cost the Department of Corrections additional funds if the prison population increases and more cases of AIDS are found, it likely won't bankrupt the budget.
Richard's bill states that the department shall provide "reasonable and adequate" medical care for the prison population who test positive for the disease or the AIDS virus.
Lynn Lund, department inspector general, said this means that the prison doesn't have to provide "community" or "higher" levels of care to the prisoners. Thus, they likely will not be eligible for the expensive drug AZT.
If the bill passes, prisoners who test positive will be living together at the prison in Bluffdale in a single cell or room _ segregated from the rest of the population. At least for the most part.
In order not to separate close friends, the bill allows prisoners who test negative for AIDS to be placed in that special AIDS room _ if the uninfected person gives the prison his request in writing.
The bill has the support of both the Departments of Health and Corrections. However, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned lawmakers that segregating the AIDS patients could open the state up to litigation.
"We have to do what we have to do to protect the public," replied Sen. Ivan M. Matheson, R-Cedar City.
Results of the AIDS tests won't be the prisoner's or prison's alone.
The results will become part of the inmate's medical file. Prisoners' names, medical and epidemiological information will be provided to the Department of Health to enable the department to do partner notification and assist the prison in establishing a more effective AIDS program.
At the time the test results are given to the person tested, the prison will provide education and counseling regarding the disease.
Health officials _ who already have the authority to provide for the detection, reporting, prevention and control of communicable diseases _ oppose that bill. They maintain that mandatory reporting will deter likely carriers of the AIDS virus from being tested.