The recent tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville among the homeless community has been described as the worst United States TB epidemic in 20 years.
In the midst of this serious epidemic that has claimed 13 lives, the only TB hospital in the state was closed July 1, six months earlier than required in the bill. State-funded A.G. Holley TB Hospital has for 60 years treated difficult cases that represented a threat to Florida communities. TB is a major killer and outbreaks are serious. The decision to close the hospital and weaken other Florida Health Department authority was strongly opposed by a cadre of retired senior health department officials and other advocates in a hand-delivered letter to the Governor's office.
Ignoring the recommendation to veto HB1263, Florida's health department efforts were weakened and the TB hospital closed. The outbreak draws attention to the need for such a facility as hospitals in the private sector have little interest in caring for patients that are uninsured, noncompliant, and in need of specialized care. Although the Jacksonville health department is working with the Center of Disease Control to identify and treat the TB diseased, the potential for continued spread of the disease into neighboring communities cannot be ignored.
Suggestions are being made to reopen the hospital and strengthen Florida's health department that was stripped of needed resources and authority in the last legislative session with the passage of HB 1263 and the Governor's signature on it. I call the health department "the quiet agency." Citizens rarely give much thought to their efforts. However, a dismantled health department weakened by the legislature puts citizens at risk. The TB outbreak in Jacksonville and compromised options to respond should draw attention to the need for a strong and adequately funded health department. That was the case before HB 1263 was made into law.