Florida lawmakers were outraged to learn that as they voted to close A.G. Holley, the state's only Tuberculosis hospital, the CDC was in Florida investigating one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in the last 20 years.
But the state's mishandling of the outbreak may go even further. A new report by the Palm Beach Post finds that for the past two years, state health officials were sending TB patients to the $35-per-night Monterey Motel in Jacksonville to wait out their infections.
Guests at the motel told the Post they were not informed that the dingy building was being used as a medical facility until they saw people with masks around the building. And although officials say that the cleaning staff was briefed on how to treat rooms, those interviewed were unable to confirm they took special precautions.
State officials have already come under heat for not informing the general public, lawmakers, or even the homeless population in which most of the TB cases were found about the recent outbreak, which led to 13 deaths and 99 illnesses.
After Duval County contacted the CDC, investigators found that upwards of 3,000 people were exposed during the outbreak -- a detail released in a report to Duval authorities in April 2012.
Of those, a TB expert from John Hopkins University estimated that as many as 1,000 Floridians were likely infected even though the disease may lie dormant for years.
After the initial scrutiny, the Florida Department of Health released an official statement that they had acted with the utmost transparency and shortly after the spike in TB cases, they reinstated the Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition to address the issue.
Department of Health spokeswoman Jessica Hammonds told the Post that the Monterey Motel was specifically chosen because it had adequate ventilation and there was no air-sharing system between rooms.
Surgeon General John Armstrong, who called the Post's investigation "reckless," recently underscored how difficult it is to simply catch TB by casual encounter: "It is nearly impossible to catch TB simply by passing an infected person on the street. To be at risk, you must be exposed to the organisms constantly, by living or working in close quarters with someone who has the active disease."
At the July 19 Duval Legislative round Table Discussion on Tuberculosis, Armstrong said the state was "moving beyond the model" of using private lodging to house those infected.
With A.G. Holley's closing, Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital has become the state's exclusive treatment center for TB.
Marc J. Yacht, a retired physician and longtime public health officer, told the Miami Herald: “I have concerns if [Jackson is] going to release them quickly and they go to hotels, motels and under bridges. These patients require ongoing attention.”
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