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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

  


 

Pennsylvania Gov. Schweiker Signs Bill Extending Workers' Comp To
Emergency-Service Responders with Hepatitis C

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker today
signed into law legislation that provides Pennsylvania's emergency- service
responders with workers' compensation benefits if they contract Hepatitis C.

``Unfortunately, our first responders sometimes become `first victims,'''
Gov. Schweiker said. ``By simply performing the duties of their job, they
expose themselves to diseases such as Hepatitis C. It's about time we acted
to make sure these protectors of our communities and our citizens get the
benefits they deserve.

Mary Kohler, a 15-year Philadelphia Fire Department paramedic who contracted
Hepatitis C, joined Gov. Schweiker for the bill signing at the Frankford
Avenue Firehouse.

 




``Philadelphia's firefighters worked tirelessly to bring our plight with
Hepatitis C to light, and Gov. Schweiker listened,'' Kohler said. ``I would
like to thank Gov. Schweiker for showing a real commitment to this issue.
Emergency responders risk their lives everyday in order to save the lives of
others. Gov. Schweiker recognizes that bravery by signing this bill into law
today.''

Despite suffering from this disease, Kohler still managed to be promoted to
the rank of lieutenant -- the first woman to achieve such a rank in the
department's 265-year history.

``It takes a great deal of courage to become a paramedic,'' Gov. Schweiker
said. ``Think of the courage it takes to do that while racked by the pain and
fatigue of Hepatitis C. That's what Mary Kohler goes through every day. As
the first woman to ever make lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department,
she knows about being the underdog and long-shot causes.''

Sponsored by Rep. John Perzel (R-Philadelphia), House Bill 1633 amends the
Workers' Compensation Act to define Hepatitis C as an occupational disease.
Emergency responders now will be able to collect workers' compensation if
they contract Hepatitis C while on the job.

In addition to firefighters, paramedics and police officers, the legislation
helps ambulance and rescue crews, state and county corrections personnel, and
Department of Public Welfare personnel whose duties put them at risk for
exposure to the disease.

``I am pleased to say that this bill will put Pennsylvania on the national
forefront,'' Gov. Schweiker said. ``We are only the fourth state to provide
this benefit to emergency workers and police officers who get Hepatitis C.
Only eight states even offer it to their firefighters.''

 




Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease and is difficult for people to detect
when or how they contracted it. In some cases, people have carried it for
years before receiving a proper diagnosis. It has been a particular problem
for Philadelphia's emergency responders, who deal with emergency situations
and possible exposure to the disease on a daily basis.

The legislation also allows an employment-screening program to determine if a
potential employee incurred the disease prior to any job-related exposure.
Guidelines for a screening program will be established by the Department of
Labor and Industry.

The legislation passed the House and Senate unanimously and takes effect
immediately.

``I would like to thank Rep. Perzel and Sen. Mike Waugh (R-York) for their
hard work and dedication on this issue,'' Gov. Schweiker said. ``I also would
like to thank the General Assembly for their overwhelming support. We agree
that we must do whatever we can to protect our emergency responders as they
go about the business of protecting Pennsylvania.''

Gov. Schweiker now has signed two bills in the past 10 days recognizing the
efforts of Pennsylvania's emergency responders.

On Dec. 10, he signed legislation that designates a section of the State
Capitol grounds as ``Emergency Responder Plaza,'' in honor of Pennsylvania's
past and present law enforcement officials, firefighters and emergency
services personnel.

CONTACT: David La Torre, Deputy Press Secretary of the Pennsylvania Office of
the Governor, +1-717-783-1116.

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor