State officials are fighting back after it was revealed that they closed Florida's only tuberculosis hospital three months after receiving a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that one of the largest TB outbreaks in 20 years was uncontained in Duval County.
Sunday The Palm Beach Post questioned why politicians voting on A.G. Holley State Hospital's closure were not aware of the CDC report and why the public was not made aware of the outbreak that may have exposed 3,000 Floridians to the infectious disease.
Florida's Department of Health released an official statement Tuesday, clearing the state of any wrongdoing:
As soon as the Department of Health (DOH) saw a slight spike in the FL0046 Tuberculosis strain, we immediately reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and engaged stakeholders in the community.
As soon as the CDC site visit was completed, we re-formed The Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which enlisted several community partners including the City of Jacksonville, the Mayor’s office, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition is to ensure the homeless population is protected, the cluster is contained and the locally affected community is informed of the isolated strain within an isolated population.
Contacting these local government officials, community organizations and hospitals is a clear sign that these actions were conducted with the utmost level of transparency.
And in an email obtained by the Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog, Scott's communications director Brian Burgess shot down suggestions of a cover-up:
The secrecy allegation is absurd, and is proven so by the fact that numerous community stakeholders were engaged in the effort to contain the disease. State and county health officials alerted the Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which was composed of members from the Mayor’s office, the City of Jacksonville, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition was to protect the homeless population, make sure the cluster was contained, and inform the local community that was affected.
Yet, the Post stands behind their initial report, reminding readers that the CDC found that only two-thirds of the recent TB outbreak was found within Duval County's homeless population, meaning the rest of the cases could be in any other demographic in the county.
The Post also spoke with a TB expert from John Hopkins University who said that of the 3,000 possibly exposed, upwards of 1,000 may have been affected even though the disease may lie dormant for years before showing up in statistics.
With the CDC report now widely covered in local and national news outlets, local lawmakers are outraged that the outbreak was not discussed when voting on the hospital's closure in March.
“It is outrageous that they would hide that information or not give that information to us before we voted,” State Rep. Mack Bernard (D-West Palm Beach) told the WPTV.
Meanwhile Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) has asked Scott to create a panel to review A.G. Holley State Hospital's closing.