State Proposes Lockup Wards For AIDS Carriers
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Florida is proposing special lockup wards for AIDS carriers who appear to be knowingly spreading the disease and others who refuse to submit to AIDS testing, a plan that one critic said evokes ″images of the Middle Ages.″
The draft policy paper by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services is primarily aimed at prostitutes and others who knowingly expose others to the deadly virus, Health Secretary Gregory Coler said.
Under the Florida plan, any person who believed someone was knowingly spreading AIDS could notify the health department. The agency would attempt to get the person tested for exposure to the AIDS virus, and if they refused to be tested, they could be presumed to be positive for infection, the draft says.
Gov. Bob Martinez is considering the proposal, which would set aside $1.1 million to commit up to 22 adults at A.G. Holley Hospital in Lantana and six juveniles at a former institution for the mentally retarded in Orlando.
Judges would determine when adult AIDS patients posed a threat to others, either through having sex without a condom or through the sharing of needles.
Ben Schatz, of the National Gay Rights Advocates, called the measure archaic and says it evokes ″images of the Middle Ages.″
Stephen Crosby of Jacksonville, who directs a ministry that cares for AIDS patients, said he had mixed feelings.
″One evening’s indiscretion should not be a death sentence,″ he said. ″I’m not sure I approve 100 percent with what HRS is doing, but I don’t have any solution to offer.″
After the initial allegation, health officials would seek to gather evidence that the accused person had been sharing needles or engaging in promiscuous sexual activity, said Melissa Jacoby, an HRS analyst.
An individual accused of engaging in high-risk activity would have the right to an attorney, to cross-examine witnesses and submit to testing to disprove the allegation, the draft states.
If a person did not respond to education and counseling efforts, the agency could obtain a court order to intervene, ranging from daily monitoring by a ″probation officer″ to a commitment to a locked ward with 24-hour-a-day supervision. Commitment would be subject to review every three months.
Those making malicious reports to health authorities would face unspecified sanctions, the draft says.
″There aren’t any easy, quick or perfect answers,″ Coler said. He said he preferred locked group homes, especially for juveniles, but residents in two sections of Escambia County overwhelmingly rejected such plans.
Caitlin Ryan, a researcher with the Intergovernmental Health Policy Project, a Washington-based clearing house for health legislation, said she knows of no other state proposing wards specifically for AIDS carriers.
A 1986 revision of a communicable disease law gave Florida the authority to isolate public health risks, Jacoby said. The agency is drafting a specific AIDS statute to spell out the rights of the individual and state.
″It would be up to HRS to provide the care and quarantine people if they were sent to us under that law,″ Coler said. ″Certainly, it would be more humane to treat them - with drug treatment and other services.″
Nan Hunter, a New York American Civil Liberties Union attorney who directs an AIDS task force that tracks legislation, said the proposal was not blatantly unconstitutional as long as adequate safeguards are included for the individual.