After a tumultuous two years, FL Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will remain as chief state health official

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees at the podium next to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Shamarial Roberson in March 2020. Photo: Facebook video

Following a tumultuous two years filled with surges in COVID-19 cases, transparency issues and limited public appearances after being off-message at a DeSantis news conference, Scott Rivkees will stay on as Florida’s Surgeon General.

“Confirming: He will be staying on as SG (surgeon general),” said Christina Pushaw, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary.

She provided no other details Tuesday evening, including whether the University of Florida would continue the contractual arrangement between UF and the Florida Department of Health. Rivkees heads that state department.

Rivkees’ current contract appears to be over in less than two weeks, according to the original document signed in June 2019.

On Tuesday, at least a half dozen or more officials and staffers had refused to provide information about Rivkees’ status and whether he will be provided another two-year extension as Surgeon General and head of the Florida Department of Health.

Earlier in the day, Ken Garcia, spokesman for UF Health, said in an email to the Florida Phoenix that Rivkees’ “status has not changed,” but did not provide any further details about whether his contract will be renewed.

Garcia said Rivkees is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine. The Department of Health has provided UF $35,000 in quarterly payments, during the contract period.

It isn’t clear if the contract has amendments or addendums. The Phoenix contacted Amy Hass, the general counsel at UF, but Hass directed the Phoenix to UF communications officials.

The Florida Department of Health did not respond to multiple questions about Rivkees’ status — even about whether he was still on board. But last week, Rivkees made a statement in a news release related to the 2021-22 state budget, which presumably means he was still working as Surgeon General.

Rivkees started his job in 2019, and was finally confirmed by the Florida Senate on March 13, 2020 following a tough confirmation process related to several issues.

Tazia Stagg, a Tampa doctor, had been very vocal during a public hearing about her opposition to Rivkees’ appointment because she felt he lacked experience in public health and wasn’t qualified overall as the chief state health official.

In addition, many Democratic state lawmakers have expressed concerns that Rivkees has been largely silent about the global pandemic and other public health issues. He hasn’t made many appearances to address the public health crisis either.

The origin of Rivkees’ reticence appears to go back to mid-April 2020, when Rivkees was yanked from a press briefing because of comments he made about measures to curb the coronavirus that apparently did not square with  DeSantis’ message, according to a POLITCO report.

Meanwhile, critics have pointed to the state’s response to the pandemic under the leadership of Rivkees and DeSantis.

Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida, said in an email to the Phoenix:

“With Governor DeSantis, it’s partisan politics that determines health care policy, not science or the advice of medical professionals. At the direction of Ron DeSantis, the Florida Department of Health under Scott Rivkees has consistently hid data from the public, refused to advocate for science-based approaches to stopping the spread of the virus — like masking and social distancing — and acted as a rubber stamp for the reckless approach to combating the pandemic advocated by Donald Trump and Fox News. As a result, 37,000 Floridians have lost their lives.

“While I can’t imagine any medical professional would want to suffer the public humiliation that Scott Rivkees has been subjected to as Surgeon General, the truth is Floridians will never have an administration they can trust to put their public health first while Ron DeSantis continues to occupy the Governor’s Office.”

According to his Surgeon General bio, “Dr. Rivkees is a graduate of Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He received residency, fellowship and postdoctoral training and served as faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Before moving to Florida, Dr. Rivkees served as professor of pediatrics with tenure at Yale University. As associate chair for research he started and directed the Yale Pediatric Thyroid Center, one of the first of its kind in the United States.”

Phoenix deputy editor Michael Moline contributed to this report