Public hospital bill breezes through House

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The House on Friday easily approved a plan to reorganize the Florida Department of Health, with the sponsor saying the changes would create a more “streamlined, efficient” agency.

The 153-page plan (HB 1263) is part of a three-year effort by House leaders to revamp the department. It covers issues ranging from rewriting the duties of the state surgeon general to making changes in the Children’s Medical Services program, which serves children with complex health issues.

Perhaps the most-controversial part of the bill centers on closing the A.G. Holley state tuberculosis hospital in Palm Beach County. The long-discussed idea would lead to the department contracting with other hospitals or health providers to take care of tuberculosis patients.

Bill sponsor Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said Florida is one of only a few states that still operates a tuberculosis hospital.

“Folks, we’ve been talking about A.G. Holley for a decade or more, and there has been plan after plan after plan,” Hudson said during a debate Friday. “The time is now.”

But Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, expressed concerns about the lack of a plan to care for tuberculosis patients if A.G. Holley closes.

“They are a very, very complicated, difficult set of patients to deal with,” Pafford said.

The House voted 86-28 to approve the bill, largely along party lines. A similar bill (SB 1824) is pending in the Senate Budget Committee.

Hudson and other House leaders have argued for the past few years that the Department of Health needs to become more focused.

An initial version of HB 1263 drew criticism because it called for shifting many public-health responsibilities — and thousands of jobs — from the state to counties. But Hudson later agreed to remove that change from the bill.

Public-health advocates have continued to raise concerns about whether the bill would reduce the department’s disease-prevention efforts. That stems, in part, from proposed revisions to the legal duties of the department and the state surgeon general, who heads the agency.

But Hudson said the bill does not diminish the role of the surgeon general or the department’s role in disease prevention.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.