TALLAHASSEE – Alarmed by the lack of information on a tuberculosis outbreak provided to state lawmakers prior to a vote authorizing the closure of the state's only tuberculosis hospital, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston) called on the Senate President to authorize a Senate probe to gather critical details.
"Following the initial news report, I have been reading conflicting accounts as to who knew what and when, and why information about the exposure of up to 3000 individuals was neither shared with lawmakers or the public in general," wrote Senate Rich in a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos on Wednesday.
"Not only is this exposure a public health threat, but the ability of a state agency to circumvent the transparency which is supposed to govern our legislative process is troubling at best. 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. And I believe it is now incumbent upon the Senate with its investigative authority to undertake a thorough probe of the events leading up to the hospital's closure and the risk to the public at large."
At issue is a Palm Beach Post article published earlier this week detailing a tuberculosis outbreak that had not only been withheld from the public, but from lawmakers as they readied to vote on legislation authorizing the shuttering of AG Holley hospital – the state's only tuberculosis facility.
Even though as many as 3000 Floridians may have been exposed to the disease, the newspaper noted, Governor Rick Scott not only signed the legislation, but expedited the hospital's closure.
Following the news report, conflicting information has since emerged from the Scott Administration concerning the outbreak and disclosure, underlining the need for the Senate to take an independent look at the controversy. Senator Rich is requesting that the Senate President convene a joint review committee consisting of the Health Regulation Committee and the HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, and that it begin its work as soon as possible.
"The joint committee should be authorized to investigate the outbreak...and why the information was withheld from lawmakers prior to the passage of HB 1263. I also ask that the panel examine why the shuttering of AG Holley was expedited, whether the closure has resulted in any savings of tax dollars, and how much containment and treatment are expected to cost given the hospital's closure," she wrote.
"With potentially thousands of lives at stake, the need for immediate action is critical. In order to prevent such an occurrence in the future, we need to better understand what occurred. Convening this committee will allow you to enforce the legislative transparency that should have been exercised all along."