Florida health officials claim that the 18 tuberculosis patients they are releasing to the community from A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana can be cared for by their own doctors and monitored by local county health departments. If that were true they would never have been admitted to A.G. Holley.
Each year in its long range plan the Department of Health acknowledges that A.G. Holley patients “cannot be treated and cured in the community.” In fact, in its 2012-2013 plan, DOH stated that “all of A.G. Holley’s patients have failed treatment in their communities or have been diagnosed as medically complex requiring specialized care and treatment.”
It is highly doubtful then that the patients being sent to live among the populace in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and several other counties pose no threat to public health. “The patients that are being discharged to the community,” said Jessica Hammonds, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, “are not contagious.”
They may not be contagious today, but what about a few months from now? The biggest danger in treating TB is that the patient won’t take their medication on schedule and will develop a life threatening multi-drug resistant strain of the disease. That’s why they are sent to A.G. Holley. The hospital treats, according to its web site, “the most complicated and difficult tuberculosis cases.”
The state has tried and failed for years to close the 60-year-old hospital to reduce the $10 million annual cost to treat what has become a small number of patients. Lawmakers, however, are loathe to enact the one plan that makes sense - building a smaller, more efficient facility as DOH has recommended. Instead, they passed a sweeping overhaul of DOH that essentially instructs staff to shut it down quickly - whether or not the plan makes sense.
The patients being returned to their home counties have already demonstrated an inability to take their medications as prescribed. If they continue that behavior after being released, public health will most certainly be at risk. “One infectious patient with TB,” says the DOH report, “can spread the disease to as many as 30 others.”
There is also little reason to believe that the 16 patients being sent to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami - those whom courts have ordered to be confined and treated - will pose no threat. DOH has said that no other hospital in the state is equipped to do what A.G. Holley does. The average patient stay at A.G. Holley is 180 days. Patients with resistant strains of TB can stay up to 18 months. “Aside from their acknowledged lack of specialized expertise needed,” said the DOH report, “Florida hospitals may not be currently organized or financed to handle the burden of the prolonged hospital stays.”
Rushing to close A.G. Holley could cost the state more than its $10 million annual tab. The price could be the lives of Floridians.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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