In January I wrote about Mary Jones, the Central Kitsap woman
who has cared for some of the state’s most medically fragile babies
while they were placed in state custody. (Read that story here).
Jones started fostering 31 years ago, but in December she
terminated her foster care license with the state because she’d
finally had enough with the state’s Department of Social and Health
It takes a lot to get Jones that upset — this is a woman who has
the patience of a saint — but after an infant in her care was not
tested for HIV, even though the child’s mother gave permission,
Jones had had enough. She was told by DSHS officials that a court
order was needed to test the child, but it took close to six months
for that order to be issued. Testing the infant as soon as possible
would have been in the baby’s best interest, because if the infant
tested positive it would have been given necessary antiviral
medication to potentially keep the disease away.
It wasn’t until Jones terminated her license and the baby was
moved to a different foster family that Jones received a call from
the baby’s caseworker saying the court order had been issued. But
even then if the infant tested positive for HIV, the state wouldn’t
tell Jones the results because she longer was caring for the child
— even though she’d cared for the baby for three months,
potentially exposing herself to the disease.
This isn’t the first time Jones has run up against DSHS about
its lack of policy on whether to test infants at birth for HIV. She
has tried since 2004 to get legislation passed that would test
infants for HIV if the status of the mother is unknown, and if the
mother is at high risk for the disease (i.e. an intravenous drug
user). Many pregnant women whose children enter state custody after
birth receive prenatal care, so the percentage of women whose HIV
status is unknown at the time of delivery is low. But it’s the
babies born to women who are intravenous drug users, or who don’t
receive any medical attention during pregnancy, and who don’t know
if they’re HIV positive, that the bill aims to reach.
Working with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Jones
hopes to see legislation passed this year that would update state
law to require the test in infants whose status is unknown.
The bill, SB 5454, made it out of the Senate Human Services and
Corrections Committee and after a detour through the Senate Ways
and Means committee (an inaccurate fiscal note was attached to the
bill, which is how it ended up there) the bill is now waiting on
the rules committee to be brought to the floor for a vote.
This is the first time this legislation has made it out of
committee. Rolfes is optimistic the bill will pass once on the
floor, but she’s also pragmatic and knows it faces an uphill
“The challenge is right now we have hundreds of bills waiting to
get to the floor for a vote,” Rolfes said Wednesday. “We have
another week or so to get the bills out and the Senate moves very
slowly. Whether I can get it to the floor is the big ‘if.’”
Jones has been holding her breath, waiting to see if the bill
finally passes. Seeing this legislation approved might help heal
Jones’ wounds — the 63-year-old planned to retire this spring when
her license ran out; terminating her license early was an act of
desperation. While she knows she did the right thing, there’s still
a part of her that is upset she didn’t get to retire the way she
Even though she’s no longer caring for the medically fragile
babies, she’s still fighting for them in Olympia.
“When I go down there to testify I am always just focused on who
I am there for, which is always my babies,” she said earlier this
If the bill doesn’t make it to the floor this session, Rolfes
isn’t discouraged, in fact she’s optimistic that it will be even
easier to get it passed during the next session.
“A lot times when the bills get this far you can get them out
the next year,” she said. “Where we are right now is strategically
a good spot. We’ll know in another couple of weeks if it’s still
alive. It’s certainly my priority.”
Here’s some excerpts from SB 5454, which updates RCW
When an infant under one year of age is placed in out-of-home
care under this chapter, the department or other supervising agency
shall request that the infant’s treating physician test the infant
for human immunodeficiency virus, if the human immunodeficiency
virus status of the mother of the infant:
(i) Is known to be positive; or
(ii) Is unknown and the department has specific information
indicating that the mother is at increased risk of human
immunodeficiency virus infection, including, but not limited to, a
history of drug abuse.
The bill goes on to indicate the supervising agency must then
follow a treating physician’s recommendation for follow-up testing
and care for infants that test positive. It also says the child’s
parent must be asked for consent. If they object for any reason,
including conflicts with religious beliefs, a court order is
required to perform the test.
Click here to see the TVW
footage of the Feb. 12 Senate Human Services and Corrections
Committee hearing on SB 5454.
Click here for a history of SB 5454,
which includes links to a pdf of the original bill.