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We continue to work through all options in Tacoma tuberculosis case

UPDATE, July 25

On Thursday, July 20 all parties in this case agreed to a court order with conditions to end isolation and electronic home monitoring for this patient. The patient has tested negative in 3 consecutive acid-fast bacillus (AFB) tests, meaning she is no longer infectious. We will continue to work with her to provide treatment and testing to help cure her tuberculosis. You can find court documents and other information about this case on Pierce County LINX online.

UPDATE, July 14

Judge Philip Sorensen issued an order today extending the conditions of his June 23 order to Aug. 28. We will continue to work with this patient to provide testing and treatment to help cure her tuberculosis. You can find court documents and other information about this case on Pierce County LINX online.

UPDATE, June 23

Judge Philip Sorensen issued an order today releasing this patient from the Pierce County Jail with conditions. This will allow her to isolate at home under court supervision. We will continue to work with her to provide testing and treatment to help cure her tuberculosis. You can find court documents and other information about this case on Pierce County LINX online.

UPDATE, June 1

Law enforcement transported this patient to the Pierce County Jail. She will be housed in a room specially equipped for isolation, testing and treatment. We are hopeful she will choose to get the life-saving treatment she needs to treat her tuberculosis. Thank you to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the deputies who supported public health with this necessary intervention.

UPDATE, May 19

Judge Philip Sorensen extended the civil arrest warrant that authorizes law enforcement to detain the patient who is still refusing treatment. You can find court documents and other information about this case on Pierce County LINX online.

UPDATE, April 6

Law enforcement has the civil arrest warrant that authorizes them to detain the patient who is still refusing treatment.

UPDATE, March 2 

This patient is still refusing to isolate and get the treatment she needs to treat her tuberculosis. The civil arrest warrant Judge Philip Sorensen issued will authorize law enforcement to detain her on or following Friday, March 3 and take her to a facility equipped for isolation, testing and treatment. We will continue to work through the court and to pursue all our options to protect the community and persuade the patient to voluntarily seek the life-saving treatment she needs.

Original post

At the Health Department, our mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. We do that in many ways.

In our Communicable Disease Division, we identify, investigate and limit the spread of diseases. We help people with diseases like HIV/AIDS, whooping cough and tuberculosis (TB) get the care they need. We depend on people working with us to follow public health guidance to prevent the spread of diseases. 

People can die from TB if they don’t get treatment. And they can expose other people to unnecessary risk of getting TB. 

A recent case of TB in a Tacoma woman is a rare instance where the patient has refused to take the life-saving medication she needs or remain in isolation. We have worked with family and community members for more than a year to do everything we can to persuade this woman to take her medication to protect herself and our community. After 15 court hearings, we are closing in on our last option.

This case is only the third time in the past 20 years the Health Department has had to seek a court order to detain a potentially contagious patient who refused treatment for TB.

Helping treat TB in our community.

In Pierce County, we see about 20 cases of active TB disease per year. Washington State Law requires healthcare providers to report all cases of active TB to the local health department. Our staff works with all patients who have active TB to make sure they get treatment to cure the disease.

Nearly all patients we contact are more than happy to get the treatment they need to help protect themselves and our community. TB is deadly and contagious. But it is curable with medication.

When we face challenges with a person who does not want to take medication or isolate, we connect with family members, friends, and people in their community to help. We work to remove any barriers that may be in the way of them getting the treatment they need. When these options don’t work, the Health Department has an obligation to the community and the legal authority to seek a court order to persuade patients to comply. 

In rare cases, we must take the step of asking the court to enforce its order.

Legal help.

On Friday, Feb. 24, we went to court for the 16th time in this case. As a last possible resort, Judge Philip Sorensen found the woman with TB in civil contempt for refusing to comply with his order that she either resume taking her medication or voluntarily isolate herself.

He issued a warrant for civil arrest by law enforcement on or following Friday, March 3 for the woman to be taken to a specially designated facility at the Pierce County Jail for isolation, testing and treatment.  

If the woman complies before March 3, we may ask the court to lift the arrest warrant. Another court hearing is scheduled for March 2. 

In each case like this, we are constantly balancing risk to the public and the civil liberties of the patient. We are always hopeful a patient will choose to comply voluntarily. Seeking to enforce a court order through a civil arrest warrant is always our last resort.

UPDATED: 07/25/2023

UPDATED: 07/14/2023

UPDATED: 06/23/2023

UPDATED: 06/16/2023

UPDATED: 06/01/2023

UPDATED: 05/22/2023

UPDATED: 04/06/2023

UPDATED: 03/03/2023

UPDATED: 03/02/2023