Florida Senate leader calls for probe into TB outbreak

On the heels of a Palm Beach Post story detailing secrecy surrounding the worst tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years, the state Senate's ranking Democrat called today for a probe to explain why information on the North Florida outbreak was not provided to state lawmakers before they voted to close A.G. Holley Hospital.

The Lantana facility was Florida's only TB hospital. A fast-growing strain concentrated in Jacksonville has been linked to 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, including six infected children.

"I have been reading conflicting accounts as to who knew what and when, and why information about the exposure of up to 3,000 individuals was neither shared with lawmakers or the public in general," wrote Senate Democratic leader and gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich (D-Weston) in a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

"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."

Haridopolos was traveling but expected to be briefed on Rich's letter Friday morning.

Her request follows a Post article detailing a TB outbreak which may have exposed more than 3,000 people, many of them homeless, to TB. Information on the cases was not made known to the general public until early June or certain lawmakers involved in the decision to close A.G. Holley.

The state's Department of Health has defended its actions, emphasizing that as information on the upswing of a certain strain in TB cases became available, they re-formed a community task force aimed at curbing its spread and identifying those who might have been exposed to the ailment. In addition, said state health officials, they called in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to aid state efforts. The general public was not notified, said one official, because the outbreak appeared to be contained to the homeless population in Duval County.

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation closing A.G. Holley nine days after the CDC issued its report on the outbreak. The federal report called it the worst such outbreak the CDC had been involved with in 20 years.

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