02/17/06 — Health board seeks funding for blood tests

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Health board seeks funding for blood tests

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 17, 2006 1:56 PM

The Board of Health voted Wednesday to request county commissioners continue funding a program designed to deter refusal of breathalyzer tests.

Health Director James Roosen said there are about two months' worth of funds remaining from a blood alcohol grant received in December 2004. He estimated the amount to keep the program going would be $1,300 permonth.

"We knew the money was going to run out, but we have not succeeded in getting grants" to supplement the expense, he said.

Roosen said the grant money paid for laboratory technicians to be on call to draw a blood sample from anyone suspected of driving under the influence. Goldsboro police department has worked closely with the Health Department and would like the program to continue, Roosen said.

Ann McKenzie, lab supervisor, said Goldsboro received the national grant because it had one of the highest refusal rates in the state, with 28 percent.

"A lot of people, if they already have their license revoked, will refuse (the breathalyzer) so that they'll get a lesser charge," she said. Programs such as this aid in decreasing the number of refusals and being able to prosecute offenders.

In the 14 months since receiving the grant, she said the Health Department has responded to 92 calls. Included in those, 28 people have been convicted, eight were not convicted, and 34 cases are still pending, she said.

"It's running extremely well. It's real timely when we go to draw the blood," she said, noting that the typical response time for a lab tech is within 30 minutes.

Intended to reduce the number of refusals, Ms. McKenzie said law enforcement officials have been pleased with the program. Over the last four months, the technicians are now drawing blood for the county as well, with the addition of the highway patrol, she said.

With agencies grateful for the measure's success, Roosen said it would be a shame to discontinue it due to lack of funds.

"Right now, nobody would step in to do that ... it would fall by the wayside," he told the board. "We want to successfully prosecute people who refuse the breathalyzer."

Board member Steve Smith suggested that instead of requesting money solely from the commissioners, that the city as well as other municipalities be approached.

"If it's going to benefit everybody in the county, maybe between everybody there would be enough to cover the expenses," he said.

Roosen said his first effort will be through the commissioners. There might also be future opportunities to have a local ordinance for the city and county, whereby the suspect can be charged to offset some of the fees incurred, he said.

Roosen said he and Ms. McKenzie planned to explain the program and share some of its statistics with the commission, then work to assess the county officials' interest level in continuing the project.

"In the meantime, we are still looking at grant funding," he said.