Refusals by District medical technicians to handle the bodies of those with AIDS "will not be tolerated," the city's public health commissioner said yesterday, but he stopped short of saying whether refusals would result in disciplinary action.
Commissioner Andrew D. McBride drove to a Northwest apartment Monday night to help move the body of an AIDS victim to end an hours-long impasse on who would remove the body.
City Council members praised McBride at an unrelated District hearing yesterday, but McBride said later, "The important lesson is not that the health commissioner went out to the scene, but the dramatization that AIDS is not transmitted through casual contact."
A spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services said one of two technicians on duty in the medical examiner's office on Monday refused to respond to a call to remove the body because the man had AIDS. Police officers on the scene also declined to help the technician who responded. The body of Michael James Lanier remained in a bedroom for at least six hours while family and friends grieved in an adjoining room and waited for city employes to remove it.
McBride said the city's policy is that "no one is to refuse to go out to pick up AIDS victims. That refusal will not be tolerated." But he said a decision on any disciplinary action would not be made until a full investigation is done.
McBride also said that he expects police officers to assist in moving bodies of AIDS patients. Police officers, while not directly responsible for handling bodies, "do assist in handling [bodies] in the normal course of events and we want them to follow their normal course of events" in AIDS cases, he said.
Police supervisors will not order officers to handle bodies for fear of the police union filing a charge of unfair labor practices, a spokesman said. "I talked with some police officers today and they obviously got a lesson from this and felt compassion towards the family," he said.
Although autopsy technicians said a delay in removing a body of an AIDS patient had occurred at least once before, McBride said he does not expect the problem to recur.
"This is a rarity," he said. "There are thousands of health workers and rescuers who deal with AIDS on a daily basis who do not contract the disease and who work with compassion and confidence . . . . There will be less of this fear, unfortunately, as more victims become manifest."
The District has recorded 310 cases of AIDS, including 164 deaths, according to the latest figures compiled by the D.C. Commission on Public Health. The number of cases is expected to double within 18 months.