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U.Va. Health System

 CONTACT: Jane Perry, Director of Communications
(804) 982-3763


 U.Va. professor’s pioneering research embodied in legislation

 CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., November 6 – The President today signed groundbreaking legislation designed to protect 8 million U.S. health care workers from injuries caused by needles and other sharp medical devices. Called the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, the bill quickly passed the House and the Senate in October, receiving unanimous, bipartisan support in both chambers.

U.S. health care workers sustain over a half-million injuries from sharp medical devices each year, and as a result, many are tragically and unnecessarily infected with bloodborne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The bill requires health care facilities under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to use safety-engineered needles and other sharp medical devices with protective features that retract, blunt or otherwise shield the sharp point or edge after use.

The legislation, H.R. 5178, was authored by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC), who introduced it in the House with co-sponsor Major Owens (D-NY). In the Senate, the bill was co-sponsored by Senators Jim Jeffords (R-VT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Harry Reid (D-NV). The House approved the bill on Oct. 3, and the Senate on Oct. 26. It passed with the efforts and support of a broad coalition of health care worker and industry groups, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Nurses Association and the American Hospital Association. The SEIU, in particular, worked hard over the last decade to get needlestick prevention legislation introduced, both at the state and federal level.

For Janine Jagger, director of the International Health Care Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia Health System, the legislation is the culmination of 15 years of research and advocacy on behalf of health care workers to prevent needlestick injuries and occupational exposures to bloodborne disease. She and her colleagues at U.Va., Dr. Richard Pearson, Ella Hunt and Jessica Brand-Elnaggar, published a landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1988 classifying medical devices associated with injuries and, for the first time, outlining design criteria for safer devices. These criteria are embodied in and mandated by the federal needlestick prevention bill.

"This landmark legislation without a doubt will save many lives and improve the quality of health care," Jagger said. "It also sets a world standard and challenges other countries to provide an equal level of protection to their health care workers. It is the highest form of recognition of our responsibility to care for those who care for us."

"Far too many health care workers have become injured and ill, been told to ‘be careful’ when using inherently dangerous conventional needles. Jagger’s pioneering work helped change all that. She opened our eyes to the possibility of a health care environment free of most needlesticks," said Bill Borwegen, director of health and safety, SEIU. "We owe a debt of gratitude to Jagger for helping us over the past dozen years to get safer needles into the hands of our nation’s healthcare workers."

U.Va.’s Center has provided information and support to numerous occupationally infected health care workers around the country. Among those are Diane Mawyer, an Afton, Virginia nurse who was infected with hepatitis C from an on-the-job exposure to blood.

"I am so pleased that Congress has taken action to protect health care workers from potential infection with bloodborne pathogens," Mawyer said. "Had this measure been in place when I was a practicing nurse, perhaps I would have been spared the physical, emotional and financial trauma of years of illness, three organ transplants and the loss of my career."

More than 100 safety-engineered devices are now on the U.S. market. Researchers have shown that this new generation of medical technology significantly reduces occupational needlesticks.

For more information, contact Jane Perry, director of communications for the International Health Care Worker Safety Center at (804) 982-3763 or visit the Center's Web site, www.med.virginia.edu/epinet, which includes a list of safety-engineered devices and provides extensive resources to help health care facilities implement needlestick prevention programs. For more detailed information on the provisions of the bill, go to "Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act":Main Provisions.

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November 6, 2000