Gov. Rick Scott made Ebola preparedness a top priority in October during the final weeks of his reelection campaign — so much so, he appeared on live television to tout his plans for keeping Floridians safe.
But as of Thursday, no Florida hospitals had been designated Ebola treatment centers.
The nation’s 36 treatment centers are in New York, California and 10 other states, along with the District of Columbia, according to a list released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The closest to Florida is Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
While the CDC plays a role in assessing potential Ebola treatment centers, it is up to state health officials to decide which hospitals receive the designation.
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Florida Department of Health spokesman Nathan Dunn declined to say why no Florida hospitals appeared on the list, but he noted that 159 hospitals in Florida have completed Ebola-specific training.
“We feel like we’ve taken the steps necessary to make sure Florida is prepared for a case of Ebola,” he said.
Added Scott spokesman John Tupps: “The Florida Department of Health has enhanced readiness across the state, and has worked with hospitals on equipment and training programs.”
Scott pushed Ebola preparedness to the forefront of his agenda after three people tested positive for the virus in Texas in October.
When word got out that one of the patients had traveled from Cleveland to Dallas on a plane that later went to Fort Lauderdale, Scott called on the CDC to reach out to all passengers who had been on the aircraft. The CDC refused, but fulfilled subsequent requests for a conference call for Florida hospitals and approval to spend about $7 million in federal grant money on protective suits for healthcare workers.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist praised Scott’s efforts during a televised debate, but some political observers accused the Republican governor of exploiting Ebola in advance of the hotly contested November election.
No cases of the virus have been reported in Florida. The state health department has received 121 requests to assess symptomatic people, according to records released Thursday.
As weeks have passed without new diagnoses in the United States, Scott has been less vocal about the issue. The CDC, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to prepare hospitals nationwide.
The agency describes Ebola treatment centers as hospitals that have the “current capabilities, training and resources to provide the complex treatment necessary to care for a person with Ebola while minimizing risk to healthcare workers.”
CDC spokeswoman Melissa Brower said the agency had initially focused on hospitals around five major airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; Washington Dulles International Airport; O’Hare International Airport in Chicago; and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Hospitals in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nebraska had also received the designation.
That isn’t to say Florida will never be included.
“The list that came out this week is a snapshot of where we are at this moment in time,” Brower said. “We fully anticipate that in the coming days and weeks additional facilities will be added to that list.”
The Florida Health Department’s Dunn declined to say whether any Florida hospitals were working toward that goal.
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.