What happens if you're facing the worst tuberculosis outbreak the CDC has seen in 20 years? If you're Florida Governor Rick Scott, it involved covering up or ignoring the fact, signing laws shrinking the state's Department of Health, and shutting down the hospital where TB cases had been treated for the past 60 years. "It was early February when Duval County Health Department officials felt so overwhelmed by the sudden spike in tuberculosis that they asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become involved," reports Stacey Singer for the Palm Beach Post. "Believing the outbreak affected only their underclass, the health officials made a conscious decision not to not tell the public, repeating a decision they had made in 2008, when the same strain had appeared in an assisted living home for people with schizophrenia."
And it gets worse. The CDC issued a warning that tuberculosis was linked to 13 deaths, and 99 illnesses in the state and over 3,000 exposed in homeless shelters in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. Those scary statistics aren't the beginning of the bad, this is: That report was unseen by lawmakers and came out "exactly nine days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill that shrank the Department of Health and required the closure of the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, where tough tuberculosis cases have been treated for more than 60 years," reports Singer, who adds that the hospital, which is one of the four tuberculosis hospitals left in the country and the only one in Florida, was closed six months early on July 2. Essentially, those calling for the closure of the TB hospital had no idea there was a TB outbreak.
And in a final turn of the knife, it seems like cutting costs here may backfire. According to the Palm Beach Post, it may cost up to $500 per patient to treat, and $275,000 per drug-resistant strain, adding "Yet only 253 people had been found and evaluated for TB infection, meaning Florida’s outbreak was, and is, far from contained."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.