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A nurse administers a test for tuberculosis to a Barnes-Jewish Hospital employee in this March 23, 2010, file photo. Photo by Stephanie Cordle, scordle@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Two years after the University of Missouri closed the state’s lone hospital for treating tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, state health officials are looking at opening a replacement facility.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is seeking bids for a study that could provide officials with a road map for opening a new treatment center to replace the current process of sending patients to other states.

It comes amid a nationwide increase in the number of people contracting the airborne bacterial disease that attacks the lungs.

According to the request, Missouri has averaged 90 active tuberculosis cases in each of the past three years.

“Missouri is dependent on either a private entity or another state facility to provide prompt inpatient treatment to disrupt the possible transmission of TB,” the request notes. “Given the high treatment costs of even a single case of drug-resistant TB requiring inpatient treatment, transmission resulting in multiple cases could have staggering fiscal consequences.”

In addition, the request notes that the treatment center could serve as a centralized facility for the treatment of outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola.

“Without a public treatment resource, the state cannot ensure either the public or the health care system that individuals with other novel or emerging infectious diseases can and will be treated in an appropriate or timely manner,” the request noted.

The state’s move has drawn applause from TB experts, who say the nation needs a better plan for dealing with the expensive and lengthy treatment period.

“I think all of the states are scrambling to figure out the most effective setting to treat patients who cannot be treated in the community,” said Donna Wegener, executive director of the Atlanta-based National Tuberculosis Controllers Association. “I think it’s really wonderful that the state is trying to find the best option for these patients.”

It costs taxpayers $1,291 per day to send a Missouri resident to an out-of-state facility, said health department spokesman Ryan Hobart. Treatments can take from two months to two years.

Missouri currently has a contract with a state-run facility in Texas. Hobart said the state did not have anyone in treatment as of Wednesday.

As part of the request, officials said state health departments in surrounding states indicated they would be interested in sending their patients to Missouri if a facility were available.

The proposed study, which would cost no more than $350,000, would be due by June 2017.

In October 2014, the University of Missouri Health Care system closed the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon, which had been the state’s primary hospital for treating infectious outbreaks for more than a century. At the time, the center had 24 patients with a capacity for 130. Officials cited a decade-long decline in the number of patients and the uncertainty of state funding for the closure. The center received about $10 million from the state annually in the five years leading up to the closure.

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