By Roger Caldwell
Florida’s population is growing, but its infrastructure and state services are crumbling. Governor Rick Scott has a plan to attract businesses and corporations with inexpensive state services and low state taxes. Last spring the legislature decided to close A.G. Holley in Lantana, the state’s only tuberculosis hospital.
A.G. Holley is one of the last such facilities in the U.S., and at the time of its closing it only received enough money to treat 50 patients. But on April 5, 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report indicating that Duval County, Florida was suffering one of the largest uncontained TB outbreaks in 20 years.
The CDC estimated that 3,000 people had been exposed to TB, and it was the largest TB spike nationwide in 20 years. It has been determined that 13 people have died, and 99 others, mostly among the homeless, had contracted the illness.
The governor’s office and the state Department of Health maintain that alarm bells are not needed, because the outbreak was dealt with in a very transparent and open manner by public officials in Jacksonville. “In a nutshell the state has worked closely with the CDC to implement all of its recommendations and get health professionals on the ground in the community,” says Lane Wright, the governor’s press secretary.
But there are conflicting reports on when the information was made available to the media and the public. When CDC warned the governor and his state health office received a report that tuberculosis was making a comeback in the state, it was never passed on to the legislature. The report was circulated to the public in early June, and the same strain was appearing in other parts of the state, including Miami.
Hundreds, and possibly thousands of people in Florida could be carrying the T.B. strain. The strain started back in 2008, in a Jacksonville assisted-living facility that killed two people. To stop the strain, the CDC sent local health officials $275,000 to hire extra help, but when the money ran out, the staff was cut.
Now Florida’s governor’s office is being accused of not alerting the public and legislatures to a possible TB outbreak. The head of the Florida House health care appropriations committee, Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples), said he never would have agreed to close the hospital if he had known about the CDC’s report on the outbreak.
Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston), asked Senate President Mike Haritopoulos (R-Merritt Island), to set up an independent probe, on just what was known, and when the information was made available. “The bottom line is the public/legislature was not made aware, and lawmakers, including myself were tasked with making programmatic and fiscal decisions about public health. I believe it is now incumbent upon the Senate, with its investigative authority, to undertake a thorough probe of the events leading up to the hospital’s closure and the risk to the public at large,” says Nan Rich.
Again, it appears that our governor is hiding and not being transparent with information that is crucial to the health of our state. It is time to sound the alarm bells, make a thorough investigation, and establish who is incompetent and dropping the ball in the governor’s office.