Tests, Preventive Treatment, Smallpox Reactions Covered for Ohio First Responders

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers in Ohio are covered for post-exposure medical services when they come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), and the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation says it will allow workers' compensation benefits for first responders who develop adverse reactions to the smallpox vaccine.

Under the recently signed Senate Bill 223, which went into effect March 14, BWC and self-insuring public employers are required to pay for medical diagnostic services and necessary preventive treatment for first responders employed by or volunteering for public and private state-fund and self-insuring public employers. The law applies even if the covered employee did not contract an occupational disease.

"In the course of their job, peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers place themselves in jeopardy every day to ensure our safety," said BWC Administrator/CEO James Conrad. "Workers' compensation will cover the costs of early testing and preventive treatment, and allow us to monitor immediately any effects from their exposure."

In addition, said Conrad, Ohio's health-care response team members can rest assured they will receive workers' compensation coverage in the event they develop serious or life-threatening reactions from the smallpox vaccine.

"For most people, the smallpox vaccine is safe and effective. However, BWC believes it's important to be prepared in the unfortunate event a covered employee has an adverse reaction to the vaccine," said Conrad. "Hospital workers are compromising their health voluntarily to ensure the public safety. The least we can do is offer them our support."

BWC established this policy in response to the three-phase smallpox vaccination plan President George W. Bush announced in December to address the possibility of a biological attack. Phase 1 of the plan involves health-care response team members and was initiated Feb. 19.

During Phase 1 planning, BWC worked closely with the Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments to provide counsel and communication regarding Phase 1 workers' compensation impacts.

BWC will address Phase 2 of the vaccination plan if and when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addresses it.

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