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November 2022

Temporarily detained: Tuberculous alcoholics in Seattle, 1949 through 1960

Journal/Book: Am J Public Health. 1996; 86: 1015 Fifteenth St NW, Washington, DC 20005. Amer Public Health Assn Inc. 257-265.

Abstract: Repeatedly noncompliant tuberculosis patients (who are often homeless or substance users) are once again being forcibly detained. Health officials intend that confinement be used only when ''less restrictive alternatives'' have failed. Past programs of detention can inform current efforts. In 1949, Seattle's Firland Sanatorium established a locked ward. Although initially intended only for active public health threats, the ward was eventually used to maintain order among Firland's alcoholic patients. That is, the staff detained alcoholics-regardless of their infectivity or compliance with medications-for breaking sanatorium rules. In this manner, maintaining institutional order became a legitimate reason for invoking public health powers. Although new detention regulations strive to protect patients' civil liberties. attention must also be paid to the day-to-day implementation of coercive measures. When public health language is used to justify administrative or institutional requirements, disadvantaged patients may be stigmatized.

Note: Article BH Lerner, Columbia Univ, Dept Med, New York, NY 10032 USA


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