FL Surgeon General confirmation: Tampa doctor questions Rivkees’ qualifications, considers him a “public health novice”

Surgeon General Scott Rivkees' confirmation process. Credit: Issac Morgan, screenshot, Florida Channel.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointed surgeon general of Florida, Scott Rivkees, faces questions over whether he is qualified to be the chief state health official in Florida.

A Tampa doctor traveled to Tallahassee this week to tell lawmakers that Rivkees isn’t qualified in the key area of public health administration, despite his top medical credentials.

Tazia Stagg, the physician, spoke against Rivkees’ confirmation for the surgeon general’s job as well as the head of the Florida Department of Health.

“I drove here today because I recognize that the nominee does not meet the requirements and I’m compelled to urge you to uphold the Florida statutes and protect Floridians from the harm that could be expected to result from having a public health novice as our public health official,” Stagg said to senators during a public hearing Tuesday at the Senate’s Health Policy committee.

Stagg added: “I attended USF (University of South Florida) for medical school and then went on to study public health and based on my training, I meet the statutory requirements for the position of Florida surgeon general. Even though I meet the statutory requirements, I consider myself somewhat underqualified to serve the people of Florida in such a capacity.”

DeSantis appointed Rivkees 10 months ago, but after mounting scrutiny last year, Rivkees had not been confirmed by the end of the 2019 legislative session.

The confirmation process began last month, at the start the 2020 legislative session.

Stagg had already sent letters and made phone calls to state officials expressing her concerns about Rivkees’ qualifications.

When she got to the Health Policy committee hearing, Stagg said: “Dr. Rivkees has impressive credentials in clinical care, medical research, medical education, and medical administration, but he did not pursue advanced training in public health administration and his experience in public health administration is not extensive.”

Still, senators on the Health Policy committee voted in favor of his appointment, as did the Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee. Rivkees still has another committee to go before the full Senate votes on his confirmation.

Concerns about Rivkees’ appointment surfaced last month during lawmaker questioning.

The Florida Phoenix earlier wrote that during a public hearing, State Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, brought up “a lot of reports about sexual harassment and some impropriety related to some comments that you have made in the past.”

Rivkee at that hearing in January, vigorously defended  his background saying “what has been reported truly is mischaracterization of the facts.”

This week, when questioned about how he would respond to cases of the deadly coronavirus, Rivkees said the Department of Health has “engaged literally hundreds of individuals” and is working with federal health agencies.

Lawmakers were concerned about Rivkees continuing to live in Gainesville — where he works at the University of Florida — even though the surgeon general position is in the state capital.

Rivkees responded: “I’m in Tallahassee Monday thru Friday. Friday evenings I will travel back to Gainesville and work on my academic activities on the weekend. I am engaged in this role absolutely 24/7 and always accessible… we have tremendous leadership within the department of health. We have incredible staff and talent to be able to address any issues.”