The NYTimes is featuring the oldest TB sanatoriums on their cover page. A.G. Holley is a state run facility in Florida that cares for patients who have failed to complete TB therapy. Many of them are being treatment for multiple drug resistant tuberculosis.
Sixty years after it opened, it is both a paragon of globalized public health and a health care anachronism, where strangers live together for months with boredom, pills, pain, contemplation and the same ancient disease that killed George Orwell, Franz Kafka and Eleanor Roosevelt. There used to be 500 patients here, surrounded by brush, with nursing quarters segregated by race. Now, no more than 50 live in the main building, above echoing, empty floors sometimes rented out as a location for filming horror movies.
They have all moved in, like generations past, because they are unable to control their illnesses. Some have traditional TB, the airborne contagion carried by one-third of the world’s population, which becomes a lung-wasting menace in only about 10 percent of the infected. A growing number of others arrive with drug-resistant mutations that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.
One of the things that is interesting about the story is the notion of how the word 'sanatorium' remains part of the hospital's culture. Patients can get dentures, healthcare beyond TB treatment, and even on-site cultural events.
Patients also leave with more than just stronger lungs. Maintaining old sanitarium ideals, Holley offers care beyond TB, whether dentures and eyeglasses or cultural activities, including outdoor classical music concerts for the noncontagious. Many Holley residents who hated arriving end up leaving profoundly changed.
“It’s not uncommon, as patients get better, for them to see this as a second chance at life,” says Dr. David Ashkin, Holley’s medical director, a Brooklynite with a hard-rock ’80s mullet. “It’s very spiritual and life changing to go from nearly dead to alive.”
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