“It’s scary,” Sachs said. “All they have to do is go on a city bus and you’re impacting the citizens of Duval County. Or they get on a train. Or they eat at a restaurant. These people need help. They don’t need to be shoveled around to various motels,” she said.
Senate Health Regulation Committee Rene Garcia said he knew about the outbreak but did not share information about it because state and local health officials were handling it properly.
“These things happen all the time. This cluster didn’t start recently. This has been going on since 2008. Ever since that point, the numbers have remained steady. So I think the Department of Health has gotten control over it. Knowing that the CDC is involved and is helping the county health department in Jacksonville, I think it’s OK. It’s working the way it should work,” said Garcia, R-Hialeah.
Florida has contracted with two hospitals — Shands Jacksonville and Jackson Memorial in Miami — to treat patients who would have been sent to A.G. Holley.
And lawmakers are spending the same amount of money — about $11 million a year — on those contracts as they were spending to keep the aging hospital open, said Rep. Matt Hudson, chairman of the House healthcare budget committee and author of a DOH overhaul that included the closure of A.G. Holley.
The Jacksonville outbreak and the closing of the hospital are unrelated, Hudson said.
“As far as I’m concerned, I did not know about (the outbreak) but it would not have changed my opinion. We simply made a decision on how best to treat people. That treatment is not best in a 60-some-odd year facility that was falling apart,” said Hudson, R-Naples.
Hudson also believes that state and local health officials handled the situation appropriately. They asked the CDC for help and requested and received a federal grant in 2009 to help pay for staff. The Duval County Health Department also set up a coalition to monitor the situation. And the number of TB cases in Jacksonville continues to drop, Hudson said.
“I’m not sure what more you could actually ask for, quite frankly,” Hudson said. “I’m not sure what a task force from other parts of the state would do for Duval County when everyone’ s engaged and everyone’s involved and they’re going about it the right way,” he said.
But state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said placing the infected residents in her community in motels “is just crazy.” Gibson said the Duval County delegation needs to get involved.
“The first order of business is the safety of the people in the area and in the state,” she said. “If there is an emergency role to be played by the legislature, then yes without question we need to not just do hearings, we need to be acting. The question is, is there a place for people right now? Where do they go? I don’t know.”