Ryan O’Connell and Neil Berman, On the Job: Bill would benefit at-risk health care workers
Monterey Herald, 5/23/14
The California Nurses Association and the vast number of health care workers in California are in support of Assembly Bill 2616 introduced by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner earlier this year. If passed into law, AB 2616 would establish a rebuttable presumption in the workers' compensation system for acute care hospital employees, providing direct patient care, who contract a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) skin infection.
Existing law provides that an injury sustained by an employee, arising out of the course and scope of their employment, is compensable under the workers' compensation system. However, what constitutes an injury arising out of the course and scope of employment is often the source of litigation. AB 2616 would create a rebuttable presumption that acute care hospital employees, who contracted MRSA, did so through their employment.
By creating a rebuttable presumption, the law recognizes the specific danger MRSA skin infections present to acute care hospital employees such as nurses. MRSA is one of the most dangerous types of antibiotic resistant staph infections. MRSA is also one of a number of infections considered by the Department of Public Health to be a health care-associated infection (HAI). According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, there were approximately 52,000 cases of MRSA-infected patients reported in California in 2007. Even with infection-reducing measures at the hospitals, the risk of health care workers contracting MRSA is very real and ever present.
The workers' compensation system already provides rebuttable presumptions to some public safety employees for such injuries and illnesses as heart trouble, hernia, pneumonia, human immunodeficiency virus, meningitis and lower-back impairment. Police officers and firefighters have had the benefit of a few of these presumptions as a result of the specific dangers inherent to their professions. AB 2616 recognizes the inherent risk of exposure to MRSA by health care workers and places the burden on the workers' compensation insurance carrier to demonstrate that the MRSA infection was not contracted as a result of employment.
The rebuttable presumption is limited in its application. Subject to any further amendments, AB 2616 holds that the MRSA skin infection must develop or manifest itself during the period of the person's employment with the hospital or within 60 days following termination of employment.
AB 2616 is a small step in the right direction for California employees. Health care workers, not unlike firefighters and police officers, risk their own health and safety every day for our benefit. AB 2616 is based on public policy dictating that we must not deter individuals from these dangerous but noble professions. Rather, we should eliminate unnecessary hurdles that frustrate the purpose of the workers' compensation system and ignore the dangers of these professions.
Ryan O'Connell and Neil Berman are lawyers with Rucka, O'Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna in Monterey. This column is intended to answer questions of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice. Mail queries to "On the Job," c/o The Monterey Herald, Box 271, Monterey 93942.
Editor's note: This bill is headed for a floor vote in the Assembly the week of May 26
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