VIDEO: Fla. Senate Minority Leader Calls for TB Investigations

By: The News Service of Florida
By: The News Service of Florida

July 13, 2012 -

Senate Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich called today for the Senate to investigate reports of a tuberculosis outbreak in Northeast Florida as the state closes its last hospital dedicated to treating the disease. Rich, D-Weston, wrote a letter to outgoing Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, asking for the probe. "Not only is this exposure a public health threat, but the ability of a state agency to circumvent the transparency which is supposed to govern our legislative process is troubling at best," Rich wrote. "The bottom line is that the public was not made aware nor were lawmakers, including myself, tasked with making programmatic and fiscal decisions about public health." The Department of Health has pushed back on media accounts, first appearing in The Palm Beach Post, based on an April report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That report said that the outbreak, which was first detected in 1999 and seemed to be clustered in a homeless shelter, a jail and an outpatient mental health clinic in downtown Jacksonville, was the largest flare-up the CDC had been involved with since the 1990s. DOH says the stories exaggerate the dangers the outbreak, which affected about 99 people. A.G. Holley State Hospital, which dealt with TB cases, closed at the beginning of this month.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Nan Rich calls for a Senate investigation of how the Scott administration handled the release of information about a serious tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville. Rich says state lawmakers were never informed about the outbreak before they voted to close A.G. Holley Hospital - the state?s only TB hospital in Lantana. She believes lawmakers should have had all the information about the outbreak before the vote. The TB cluster is linked to 13 deaths, 99 illnesses and is believed to have exposed thousands of people to the disease. Rich calls it an example of government not in the sunshine.

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July 11, 2012 -

Responding to media reports that he called "outrageous," a top Florida health official late Monday said prudent steps have already been taken to contain what federal investigators have described as the largest outbreak of tuberculosis anywhere in the United States in the past 20 years. Florida Department of Health officials said a spike in TB cases among homeless people in Jacksonville is being aggressively addressed and recent media reports that the outbreak has been kept secret are not justified. "After these inaccurate reports, it is important for the public to know, the number of TB cases in Florida has been trending downward for several years," said Dr. Steven Harris, DOH deputy secretary for health. "The increase in this particular strain of non-drug resistant TB has affected approximately 99 people over the past eight years." Harris was responding to a news story first published in The Palm Beach Post and then picked up by other publications. The story related to an April report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following a surge in cases of the highly contagious disease that appeared to be clustered in a homeless shelter, a jail and an outpatient mental health clinic in downtown Jacksonville. The CDC report raised alarm by noting that the outbreak, first detected in 2009, represented the largest such TB flare-up the CDC had been involved with since the 1990s. The report went on to say most of the potentially infected persons remain undetected and highly mobile, a combination that makes it more difficult to contain and treat the disease, which requires a relatively long and deliberate regiment of drugs and can become resistant. The report came as state health officials were in the process of closing down A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County, the state's last facility dedicated to tuberculosis treatment. Lawmakers involved in the closure have said they had no knowledge of the CDC report. Slated for closure by the end of the year, state health officials accelerated the process and closed the facility six months early. "I think the two issues are separate," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and chairman of a key Senate health care committee, who said he was unaware of the CDC report, which came out after lawmakers had already completed their work and gone home.

A stubborn and deadly outbreak of tuberculosis in the Jacksonville area is prompting Florida to team up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to battle the disease, but state health officials insist the situation is under control. The TB outbreak is linked to 13 deaths and nearly 100 illnesses since 2004, mainly among homeless people. It's estimated about 3,000 people have been exposed to the contagious disease.

Now state and federal health workers are trying to track down as many of those people as possible to check for symptoms of TB, including cough, fever, sweats and weight loss.

Florida asked the CDC for help with the TB cluster in February but not because the situation was out of control, according to Dr. Steven Harris of the state Department of Health. Harris calls it business as usual. He says the cluster of TB cases did not warrant a public warning because the state did not consider it a public health hazard.


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