County to Track Homeless TB Patients with Global Positioning System

County health officials say they have a life-threatening problem: keeping homeless tuberculosis patients in check. “TB is a highly infectious disease that can cause death,” notes a “request for quotation” recently posted on the county’s website. “To protect public health and safety, isolation policies and a strict medication regimen are prescribed for infectious TB patients. Isolation of the infectious patient allows the County to keep the patient out of the general population and at the same time to adhere to a strict medication regimen.” To achieve its objective, the county set up the Bissell House, a low-profile living facility meant to keep infected patients off the streets while they complete their cures. Residents wear tracking devices that sound an alert whenever “the patient has absconded or left the boundaries of the monitoring system.” But escapees are hard to find, and now officials want to add a Global Positioning System to their arsenal. For an as-yet-unspecified cost, would-be contractors are being asked to “monitor, track, collect and record all movement and location data of patients assigned to GPS tracking, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” A county spokeswoman says the location of Bissell House is kept confidential to protect patient privacy.

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Wasn't there a time when states and counties could compel those suffering from TB to live in sanitariums (residential hospitals) until the disease was gone, or until they died? That sounds harsh, but those who were afflicted got the best care available, and the public was not exposed to the disease. Tuberculosis is no small matter, and public health authorities should have some tools available to protect the rest of us from exposure. It IS highly infectious.

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