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DOH goes on offensive after media reports on TB outbreak

Sunday, the Palm Beach Post published an explosive article about a recent tuberculosis outbreak in Jacksonville. The report accused the state of moving forward with a reorganization of the Department of Health that includes closing the state's TB hospital while not moving quickly enough to contain the outbreak or notify key decision-makers.

The article touched a nerve in Tallahassee, where both DOH and Gov. Rick Scott's office have launched criticism. Steven Harris, the DOH's deputy secretary for health, released a statement today that said the article was inaccurate and refuted the notion that the DOH didn't notify the proper officials when it noticed the spike in TB infections.

The Herald, Tampa Bay Times and other Florida media outlets published versions of the article. And the Post is not backing away from what reporter Stacey Singer wrote.

"We stand by our story," said Joel Engelhardt, Singer's supervisor.

Harris's statement:

“The inaccuracies cited in several media reports are outrageous. As soon as the Department of Health (DOH) saw a slight spike in the FL0046 Tuberculosis strain, we immediately reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and engaged stakeholders in the community.

As soon as the CDC site visit was completed, we re-formed The Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which enlisted several community partners including the City of Jacksonville, the Mayor’s office, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition is to ensure the homeless population is protected, the cluster is contained and the locally affected community is informed of the isolated strain within an isolated population.

Contacting these local government officials, community organizations and hospitals is a clear sign that these actions were conducted with the utmost level of transparency.

With the misinformation that has been reported, it is important for the public to know the number of TB cases in Florida has been trending downward for several years. The increase in this particular strain of non-drug resistant TB has affected approximately 99 people over the past eight years.”

Here is a excerpt of an email Brian Burgess, Scott's communications director, sent to an editor at the Times:

The secrecy allegation is absurd, and is proven so by the fact that numerous community stakeholders were engaged in the effort to contain the disease.  State and county health officials alerted the Jacksonville Community Tuberculosis Coalition which was composed of members from the Mayor’s office, the City of Jacksonville, local officials, local hospitals, the Sheriff’s office and homeless shelters. The very purpose of the coalition was to protect the homeless population, make sure the cluster was contained, and inform the local community that was affected. The coalition had monthly meetings and the county health department issued a press release in coordination with the first meeting.