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.
Click below for some of Scott's other recent controversies:
Non-Transparent Transparency Program
After Florida Governor Rick Scott encouraged journalists to access his emails through his transparency program Project Sunburst in lieu of filing public records requests,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/rick-scott-emails-omitted-project-sunburst_n_1723747.html" target="_hplink"> it was revealed that emails to his official email account weren't in fact included</a> -- Project Sunburst was only displaying emails sent to a second account that appears on Florida Tea Party websites. As a result at least one news report included a positively-skewed view of Scott after his Lt. Governor made anti-gay comments.
Doctored Newspaper Front Page
Florida Governor Rick Scott's Facebook managers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/rick-scott-facebook_n_1417499.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">posted an image containing a doctored <em>Miami Herald </em>headline</a>, prompting the paper's managing editor to demand it be removed. The post, since deleted from the Governor's social media page, swapped in the headline "New Law Helps Put Floridians Back To Work" in place of the paper's original headline from 2007, "Murders Highlight Rise In Crime In Guatemala" -- making it appear an editorial from the governor had run above the fold on the <em>Herald</em>'s front page.
"Prayers" In Public Schools
Scott approved <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/florida-house-inspirational-messages-bill-approved_n_1313368.html" target="_hplink">SB 98, which means that Florida students are now allowed to deliver "inspirational messages" </a>that include everything from prayers to manifestos at mandatory school events.
Refuses Affordable Care Act
In a statement, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/01/florida-health-care-law_n_1641990.html?utm_hp_ref=miami&ir=Miami" target="_hplink">the governor said the healthcare law would not aid</a> economic growth in his state "and since Florida is legally allowed to opt out, that's the right decision for our citizens."
Scott met with King Juan Carlos of Spain during his economic development mission and immediately managed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/rick-scott-king-of-spain-elephant_n_1542066.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">to bring up the uncomfortable topic of the monarch's disastrous elephant hunting trip to Botswana</a>.
Ads On State Trails
In the midst of old-growth live oak hammocks, wild orchids, and vistas of Lakes Wales Ridge in Lake Kissimmee State Park, Florida hikers may soon see signs boasting "Buster Island Loop, brought to you by Pollo Tropical." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/rock-scott-ads-state-trails_n_1502972.html" target="_hplink">Governor Rick Scott approved a bill </a>permitting advertising on state greenways and trails, which went into effect July 1, 2012.
The Governor is in a legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department over the state's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/rick-scott-florida-governor-voter-list_n_1628607.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">effort to remove non-U.S. citizens from lists of registered voters </a>ahead of this year's presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Reverses Ban On Dying Animals Artificial Colors
Just before Easter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/07/rick-scott-approves-artif_n_1409749.html" target="_hplink">Florida Governor Rick Scott approved an agricultural bill, which permits animals to be dyed neon green and dayglo pink</a>.
Random Drug Testing
The governor passed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/drug-testing-florida-state-workers-lawmakers_n_1300331.html" target="_hplink">a law permitting state agencies to randomly drug test employees every 3 months</a>.
49,000 Voters Discouraged From Polls
Florida took center stage in the 2012 elections, when voters around the state had to wait in line at the polls for up to nine hours. Gov. Rick Scott (R) initially denied that there was any problem, saying it was "very good" that people were getting out to vote. But a new study shows that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/rick-scott-not-favored-by_n_2328614.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">tens of thousands of people were actually discouraged from voting because of the long lines</a>. According to an analysis by Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at Ohio State University, as many as 49,000 individuals in Central Florida did not vote because of the problems at the polls.
Dismal Approval Rating -- Even Amongst GOP
Most Florida voters, including Republicans, would like to see Gov. Rick Scott (R) challenged in 2014, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/rick-scott-not-favored-by_n_2328614.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">according to a poll released by Quinnipiac University</a>. More than half of voters said Scott didn't deserve a second term, and 55 percent, including 53 percent of Republicans, wanted another candidate to challenge the governor in a primary. Scott's approval ratings, though improved from 2011, were also underwater.
Cost Taxpayers $1 Million In Legal Fees
Governor Rick Scott's long list of controversial legislation -- including tweaking the state's pension plans, require drug testing of those on welfare, cutting teachers' pay, and purging voters -- may have cost Florida taxpayers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/rick-scott-costs-florida-_n_2388780.html" target="_hplink">upwards of $1 million in legal bills</a>. The latest legal bill tallies at $190,000 after a federal court ruled that Florida has to pay the attorney fees as Scott fights for the right to drug test state workers. The Orlando Sentinel found that Scott has already cost taxpayers nearly $900,000 in attorney fees as he fights for his conversational legislation, making this latest legal bill tilt the tally over $1 million.
First-Time Drug Offenders
Florida Governor Rick Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/gov-rick-scott-vetoes-bil_n_1414758.html">vetoed a widely popular bill that would send certain non-violent drug addicts to treatment after serving half their sentences</a>. “He said it was a 'public safety’ issue. No it’s not,” said bill sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) according to the Miami Herald. “These are non-violent drug offenders.” The bill, a rare common sense favorite during a legislative season that saw Scott approve dying animals and Jay-Z lyrics debated on the House floor, was opposed by only four state lawmakers.
Docs. vs. Glocks
Gov. Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/docs-vs-glocks-appeal-ric_n_1720370.html">pushed back when a federal judge ruled</a> a law gagging Florida physicians from asking patients if they owned guns unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge cited the government-imposed gag order as a violation of free speech protection under the First Amendment.
Campaign finance reports show Florida Governor Rick Scott -- who framed recent evidence-defying efforts to purge state voter rolls, limit registration and reduce early voting hours as a protection of "honest" elections -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/rick-scott-hired-boletera-boletero_n_1890552.html">hired an alleged Miami-Dade absentee ballot broker during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign</a>. Scott's campaign paid a $5,000 "contract labor" fee to 74-year-old Hialeah resident Emelina Llanes, who was identified as a so-called boletera to the Miami Herald and by El Nuevo Herald, multiple Miami-Dade watchdog blogs, and former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños.
Closes TB Hospital
In an austerity measure, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state representatives <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/florida-tuberculosis-outbreak-kept-secret_n_1658916.html">voted to close A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County, the state's only tuberculosis hospital</a>, citing a decline in Florida TB cases since 2010. But according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida was suffering one of the largest uncontained TB outbreaks in 20 years -- and the largest spike nationwide -- resulting in 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, mostly among the homeless.
Gives Out Number For Sex Hotline
Florida governor Rick Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/rick-scott-phone-sex-hotline-meningitis_n_1954060.html">accidentally sent constituents seeking information on a fungal meningitis outbreak to a phone sex hotline</a>.