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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Marc J. Yacht, M.D.
former president, Florida Association of County Health Officials
Response to TB Outbreak Defines Florida's Culture

The tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville has taken 13 lives and sickened 99 to date. And the increasing cluster of cases among the homeless continues to be minimized by newly appointed Surgeon General John Armstrong.

Continued gaffes by health department Press Secretary Jessica Hammonds, and absurd comments from former Deputy Secretary Dr. Steven Harris about why the public wasn’t informed about the nation’s worst TB outbreak in 20 years, makes you wonder whether incompetence reigns at the health department or if its leaders simply don’t care.

When questioned by a Palm Beach Post reporter about whether employees of the motel where TB patients are now housed were being trained to take precautions, Hammonds casually stated they were. But the reporter interviewed a motel maid who appeared confused by the question, casting doubt on the integrity of Hammond's response.

Information coming from the homeless community suggests there was little knowledge of the outbreak in spite of health department assurances that the homeless were being informed. Further reports of filthy conditions in one homeless shelter seen by inspectors -- but not cited or corrected -- shows the lax standards encouraged by government officials.

One must conclude that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is so “hell-bent” on privatizing and wrecking government infrastructure, including Florida’s health department, that he has no concern for the public health and safety of Florida citizens. You’d think he would be knowledgeable and concerned about public health risks, given that he ran the HCA hospital chain.

I can only surmise that the governor and health department officials are willing to defend the indefensible, knowing and hoping that attention to this story will end and be forgotten. It is likely that all the attention to the homeless would not have occurred but for the initial stories of the outbreak by the Palm Beach Post. The article has been repeated in newspapers and online journals across the country.

When our elected officials and Health Department chiefs abrogate their responsibility to public health and safety, it’s an ominous sign for Florida’s future.

Much can be surmised about the quality of state government officials with the response to this TB outbreak. This show of testing the homeless and placing patients in motels after the premature closure of A.G. Holley TB hospital speaks volumes about Scott, Florida’s Health Department leadership, and the value of a persistent reporter from the Palm Beach Post. A hastily put together plan recently announced by the Department of Health lacks sincerity in light of prior actions.

My greatest concern is that the governor and surgeon general are correct; this will blow away. Officials will just sit tight and say anything.

Marc J. Yacht, M.D., is a former president of the Florida Association of County Health Officials. 


by Dr. Radut.