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Don't close TB hospital, panel urges

With tuberculosis reports on the rise, a task force is recommending Florida's only TB hospital stay open but at half its current capacity.

A. G. Holley State Hospital, with its $8.2-million budget, had been targeted for closure under several budget reduction programs.

But with the recent surge in cases and the discovery of a drug-resistant strain of the bacteria, the Tuberculosis Alternative Care Task Force is recommending the hospital shrink from 100 to 50 beds.

In a report Tuesday to state lawmakers, the task force also suggested the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services create a 25-bed program for TB patients who need drug, alcohol and mental health treatment after hospital care.

"I think it's essential that you have some hospital beds for TB patients," said Ruth Behrman, A. G. Holley's executive director. "If the Legislature will allow us the time to do these programs, this will really help tremendously."

Many poor tuberculosis patients' being unable toafford private hospital treatment influenced the decision, said the chairman, Dr. John Witte, HRS' assistant health officer for disease control and AIDS prevention.

The task force, which began meeting in October, wants the Legislature to give HRS two years to restructure the hospital. A progress report would be due in December.

Reducing the hospital's capacity would free money for community programs and monitoring patients after their release, said Dr. James Howell, a task force member.

"We have for the first time in many years a comprehensive tuberculosis plan," he said. "It should improve the quality of care."

The task force report was supported by the American Lung Association of Florida, which lobbied state lawmakers last year to keep the hospital open.

"We are most concerned that all of the money being spent on TB treatment and prevention continue for the TB program," said Sandra Kessler, the association's executive director and a task force member.