Surgeon General Exit Means New State Health Leaders
While the incoming DeSantis administration has kept some of Gov. Rick Scott’s top officials, the state’s largest health-care agencies will see leadership changes.
State Surgeon General Celeste Philip has announced her resignation from the Florida Department of Health, effective Jan 8. Philip didn’t say in an email to staff where she would work next. The surgeon general serves as secretary of the Department of Health.
“I have been blessed with an amazing 10-year career with the department, working and learning for five years in county health departments before joining the state office. It has been my greatest professional honor to serve as your leader and am grateful to Governor Scott for this opportunity and for his support of our department,” Philip wrote in the Nov. 30 email.
Philip joins Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior in departing as Scott leaves office and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis prepares to be sworn in Jan. 8. Senior also announced his resignation effective Jan.8 and will lead the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents public, children’s and teaching hospitals.
The leadership of the Department of Elder Affairs also will change, as DeSantis’ transition team announced last week that Richard Prudom, a deputy secretary, has been named to run the agency. Prudom will replace Scott appointee Jeffrey Bragg as the department’s executive director.
The DeSantis team has not announced new leaders of the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Philip, a physician board-certified in family medicine, was appointed health secretary in 2016 after Surgeon General John Armstrong was not reconfirmed by the Florida Senate. The snub forced Armstrong’s resignation as secretary.
Philip began her career with the state health department in Polk County, where she served as medical director. She went on to serve in numerous capacities and after five years at the local level was promoted to top administrative positions.
During her tenure, Philip led the state’s response to a Zika outbreak, as health officials worked to limit the spread of the mosquito-borne virus in South Florida. But her department also has come under criticism for the way it has carried out medical-marijuana laws, including a 2016 voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical cannabis.
The DeSantis administration has said it will take a different direction than the current one on medical marijuana.
“I hope you are as proud as I am of what we’ve accomplished over the past few years,” Philip wrote in her email to staff. “As I have shared with many, I believe our department is well positioned to demonstrate to new leadership that public health professionals are talented, dedicated, and passionate about improving the lives of the people we serve --- even when we have been impacted personally, such as our colleagues in the Panhandle who recently lost their homes.”
While DeSantis will have to name new secretaries for the health agencies, his administration has kept on board some of Scott’s appointments. Florida Lottery Secretary Jim Poppell will remain in his job. Also, the DeSantis administration has kept Scott’s budget director, Cynthia Kelly, and is keeping Ken Lawson on board with the state, although he will head the Department of Economic Opportunity. Lawson currently is head of the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.