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Officers from Hagerstown area prisons air MRSA concerns with governor

May 09, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Correctional officers raised concerns about MRSA - methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection - during a meeting Thursday afternoon with Gov. Martin O'Malley and prison officials at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

O'Malley and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard met with the wardens of three state prisons south of Hagerstown, about 25 correctional officers and union officials.

Members of the media were ushered out after O'Malley and Maryland Correctional Training Center Warden Ken Horning made their opening remarks.

A major topic of discussion during the afternoon meeting was MRSA, correctional officers who attended the meeting said.

"One of my co-workers almost died," said Sgt. Richard Thomas, a correctional officer at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local chapter 1772.

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An MCI officer was hospitalized the first week of April with a confirmed MRSA infection. Another staff member has tested positive for MRSA, but that did not result in infection, said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers, who attended Thursday's meeting with prison officials.

"I worked every day with an officer who lost his lung to the disease," Thomas said.

Thomas was diagnosed with and treated for MRSA in April 2007, he said.

"I know I contracted it at work," he said.

Prison spokespeople have said previously it's impossible to track where a person contracts MRSA.

Fears surrounding the MRSA infection are one of the biggest issues at Hagerstown's prisons, Thomas said.

"The politicians are listening now," Thomas said. "Before Gov. O'Malley, they didn't listen."

Better communication and information about how to guard against MRSA is needed, O'Malley said after the meeting.

The first question asked during the meeting was about disciplinary issues surrounding the recent firing of 25 officers from neighboring Roxbury Correctional Institution and North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md., said Andrew Carbaugh, an AFSCME representative. Two of those officers were reinstated.

That question led to discussions about a correctional officer's Bill of Rights and issues surrounding a law requiring DPSCS officials to make disciplinary decisions within 30 days of beginning an investigation, Carbaugh said.

During a telephone interview Thursday evening, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said one of the officers asked the governor about a Bill of Rights legislation that Shank has pledged to prefile before the next legislative session. The governor then asked some questions about the Bill of Rights, Shank said.

Shank and other members of the Washington County delegation also met Thursday with Maynard to discuss the recent terminations of officers and due process concerns related to the firings, Shank said.

O'Malley addressed the Bill of Rights and 30-day disciplinary timeframe after the meeting. He was interested in finding a more reasonable way to ensure the officers' speedy trial rights while also affording enough time for due process, O'Malley said.

Horning thought the meeting went well and found it "refreshing" that the governor met with officers face to face, he said.

O'Malley also toured MCTC in February 2007.

In his 38 years in the prison system, no governor has toured a prison twice in two years, Horning said.

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