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Health Dept. Building in Florida Still Closed Since Ian

Services have been relocated in accordance with the agency’s disaster plan, and the new locations can accommodate all the patients who were previously visiting this central location.

The roof of Department of Health Orange's Central Building was badly damaged during Hurricane Ian. The building still hasn't reopened and services such as immunizations, refugee health, screening have been moved to different locations in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
Willie J. Allen Jr./TNS
(TNS) - The Florida Department of Health in Orange County’s main office is about to reach month three of closure, with at least another month to go as repairs continue.

The four-story Central Health Center building in downtown Orlando sustained nearly $2 million in damage during Hurricane Ian in late September, after heavy rain wrecked the roof and flooded the building’s interior, said Reed Knowlton, financial advisor to Orange County.

Director and health officer of DOH-Orange Dr. Robert Karch said about 60% of the building at 832 W. Central Blvd. was impacted.

Services have been relocated in accordance with the agency’s disaster plan, and the new locations can accommodate all the patients who were previously visiting this central location, Karch added.

“All of our services are up and running, with tremendous flexibility on the part of the DOH staff and tremendous cooperation with the Orange County government to make all this happen,” Karch said.

The interior of the building should be fixed by January’s end, but it may take until March to replace furniture and complete repairs that were already underway before the hurricane, said Sara Flynn-Kramer, manager of capital projects for Orange County.

The building may open in phases before then, she added.

This central building was DOH-Orange’s main location for mpox, formerly known as monkeypox vaccines and immunizations, among other services including pulmonology, screening/prevention, HIV/AIDs care and refugee health, which reviews overseas medical records and provides assessments and immunizations to people who have fled from persecution.

In the meantime, mpox vaccines have moved to Central Building 2, a single-story location also on DOH-Orange’s Central Health Center campus. Immunizations, refugee health services and pulmonology have moved to Central Building 3, another single-story building on the campus.

Orange County Medical Clinic has offered its exam rooms to help with the flow of DOH-Orange’s refugee clients, Karch said.

Screening and Prevention Services and the Sunshine Care Center, which offers AIDS/HIV care, are now operating at DOH-Orange’s Lila Mitchell Campus, 5151 Raleigh St., about five miles from their old location.

Maternal and family planning services were moved from Lila Mitchell to the South Side health center, 6101 Lake Ellenor Drive, about a seven-mile drive from the old location.

A bus stop is located within a few minutes’ walk of all of these DOH locations.

Karch has had a busy four and a half months since he started his position in late July, replacing Dr. Raul Pino, who resigned in April five weeks after returning from two months of paid leave. Pino was put on leave after he sent an email in January criticizing his staff’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Within Karch’s first week, the Biden Administration declared mpox a national emergency.

Soon after mpox vaccines became more widely available in Central Florida and cases fell, Hurricane Ian struck Orange County with full-force Category 1 and tropical-storm winds on Sept. 28 and 29, bringing 18 inches of rain to some parts of the region.

Then came Hurricane Nicole in November, though it was downgraded to Tropical Storm Nicole by the time it hit Central Florida.

“I’ve got to know Orange County government in a way that I may not have, had there not been two storms and an infectious disease outbreak,” Karch said. “I was really thrilled to see ... everybody working together through both storms and throughout some other issues we’ve faced, so I’m actually grateful to have gotten to know everybody so soon into my tenure.”; @CECatherman Twitter

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