TB patients headed to Jackson, Shands Jacksonville

Published On: Jun 19 2012 06:24:11 PM EDT

Getting ready to shut down the A.G. Holley state hospital, the Florida Department of Health said Tuesday it will send tuberculosis patients to Jackson Health System in Miami and Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, at least for now.

The announcement is part of the department's plan to carry out a new law requiring it to shutter the six-decade-old tuberculosis hospital in Palm Beach County. The department said earlier this month that it would stop providing patient care at A.G. Holley by July 2 and close the campus by Jan. 1.

"Jackson Health System and Shands Jacksonville have national reputations for their level of expertise in caring for patients with complex health issues,'' state Surgeon General John Armstrong said in a news release making the announcement. "It is a testament to the quality of the health care in our state that we now move into the future with confidence that these patients will receive continued high-quality care in settings close to their communities."

The state had 753 reported tuberculosis cases in 2011, but only a fraction of the patients received treatment at A.G. Holley. Information released earlier this month, for example, said only 36 patients were receiving care at the facility.

The department did not release full details Tuesday of its plans to send patients to Jackson and Shands Jacksonville, though the release described the plans as "initial" agreements. It said Shands Jacksonville would start receiving TB patients who are newly ordered by judges to receive hospitalization, while Jackson would receive court-ordered patients and other people who are currently being treated at A.G. Holley.

Ed O'Dell, a Jackson spokesman, said the Miami health system expects to get 16 patients Thursday.

The news release included a statement from Shands Jacksonville President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Burkhart indicating the state's plans might change.

"Like many hospitals, we deal with tuberculosis cases on an ongoing basis,'' Burkhart said. "The Florida Department of Health has asked us to use our experience in this transitional period, and we will do so as the state looks toward a permanent solution.''

O'Dell, however, said Jackson doesn't view the changes as temporary.

"We see it as a long-term proposition,'' he said.

After years of discussions about the idea, lawmakers this spring passed a Department of Health reorganization bill that called for shutting down A.G. Holley, which opened in 1950 and was originally built to serve as many as 500 patients.

Supporters of the move said Florida was one of only a few states that had a stand-alone TB hospital and that patients could be treated at other facilities. But critics argued that A.G. Holley serves patients with highly complex forms of the disease and that the hospital's staff offered significant expertise.

Questions have long centered on where patients would be treated if A.G. Holley closed. O'Dell said Jackson would make some "minor" changes in its facilities to care for the A.G. Holley patients.

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