2005-04-08 / Community

DOE Out $16K Monthly For BCHS Blood Violation

Lori Barron prior to contracting the disease.Lori Barron prior to contracting the disease. By Howard Schwach

The New York City Department of Education has been paying a fine of $16,000 a month for more than a year for its violation of the state’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard at Beach Channel High School and its District 75 Special Education component, PS 223.

That 1991 act requires schools and institutions to train its personnel in dealing with situations where they come in contact with blood or body secretions and must also provide protective material as well as the necessary equipment to clean themselves and the area.

And, while the complaint was issued to the special education unit in the building, a number of staff members argue that those students share bathrooms nearby the cafeteria with the regular education students as well as with the students in the Channel View Academy for Research.

In January of 2003, in response to a complaint by staff member Lori Baron, who contracted Hepatitis C after breaking up some fights that left blood on her cut skin, a team of health experts from the state’s Department of Labor went to the school and made a week-long inspection.

They found that there was neither the proper training nor the proper equipment at the school.

They also found that the only Exposure Plan at the school was obsolete and had become so in May of 1992 and that no new plan was ever filed.

In addition, the inspection and follow-up investigation found that the more than 30 other complaints of contact with blood and body fluids after incidents at the school were never reported or followed up by the school’s administration.

Even the Hepatitis C case, in which a paraprofessional was diagnosed by the department’s own medical staff and which was admittedly caused by a school-based contact, was not adequately investigated or followed up, according to the report.

A follow-up by the Labor Department in November found that none of the corrective orders issued earlier had been complied with.

It gave the Department of Education until November 16 of last year to abate the conditions. According to sources at the state agency, that was not done.

On January 11 of this year, another follow-up was done by the Department of Labors office of Public Employee Safety and Health.

“A recent visit to the inspection site revealed that the orders issued in the Notice of Violation have not been complied with in full,” the agency’s report said. “The assessment of a civil penalty has begun and shall continue to accrue on a daily basis until full compliance is achieved.”

“The case will be referred to the Attorney General for appropriate action,” the report from the Department of Health noted. According to the Attorney General’s office, criminal charges, although rarely used in cases such as this, could apply to Department of Education officials who are responsible for the compliance.

In 2003, Baron, a paraprofessional at the school and a Rockaway resident, was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a debilitating and dangerous blood disease that required expensive and painful treatments over a long period of time.

Baron, a fitness trainer for 17 years at the time, said that she was “shocked” by the diagnosis. Never having had a blood transfusion and not being a drug user, Baron’s doctor told her that the disease could only be job related.

Baron said that there were “numerous times” when she was exposed to student blood and body fluids while working at the school. She pointed in her report to the principal at the time that there were two incidents in 1996 and 1997 that involved “lacerations and broken skin.”

After each of those incidents, she says, she was given first aid by the school nurse and told to see her own doctor.

She said that she reported the contacts anecdotaly, but that Susan Erber, the principal at the time “frowned on incident reports.”

“The principal informed us not to use precautions, particularly the use of gloves when feeding the kids or working with a student who always had his or her hands in their mouth,” she says. “She said that [using the gloves] was degrading to students and made them feel different.”

Baron added that gloves were in short supply and staff members were urged to use them sparingly.

Baron told investigators, “there are no appropriate disinfectants to decontaminate surfaces or toilets, no containers for getting rid of waste material and the soiled diapers of students are often left in places for two or three days before they are disposed of.”

She added that the staff had not received the required yearly training for at least three years.

While the Department of Education tried to fight the payment, saying that the disease was not contracted in the line of duty, an arbitrator found for Baron and against the DOE in that case. The DOE then offered to pay Baron’s salary for the time she lost if she agreed to forgo future medical costs.

She refused and is awaiting a hearing on that issue.

In November of 2004, the DOE asked to modify the abatement date in order to stop the fines, but were unsuccessful.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education was asked by The Wave for comment on this story but never returned the newspaper’s call.

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