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DOH approach to bad news looks a lot like Toyota’s

The Florida Department of Health is taking the Toyota approach to a flood of bad news: Ignore it and hope it will go away.

DOH has had to deal with at least three rounds of recent negative publicity:

--Last week, only hours after confirming that there is, in fact, a “cancer cluster” of pediatric brain tumors in the Palm Beach County community called The Acreage, DOH officials said they had no plans to conduct further environmental tests there. Predictably, residents were outraged.

This week, more than 800 of them packed a high-school gym to vent concerns to a DOH contingent from Tallahassee. It was a good idea to send them; it would have been better for DOH Secretary (and Surgeon General) Ana Viamonte Ros to go herself to symbolize the agency’s concern for the people it had dissed the week before.

--Last Friday, Health News Florida published an article about the DOH consumer web site’s sins of omission: It doesn’t list pending complaints against health professionals even after they become public record, often including arrests, convictions and imprisonment.

DOH offered no explanation or excuse, only an e-mailed statement saying that was its policy. The agency has not had anything to say about it since then.

Clearly, Health News Florida is not the New York Times; it’s easy to dismiss us. But the Associated Press picked up our story and most of the big newspapers in the state ran it. Still, no word from DOH.

-- The Times/Herald bureau reported Tuesday that Viamonte Ros has spent $130,000 in taxpayers’ money on travel to Miami, her home town, and that much of it occurred on Friday so that she spent the weekend at home.

One of the readers who responded to the story wrote, simply, “Eliminate the Department of Health. Problem solved.”

That’s an old issue: whether the state really needs two health agencies, one (Agency for Health Care Administration) for Medicaid and health facilities, while DOH licenses health professionals and sends out press releases about the disease of the month. When money is tight, some lawmakers inevitably start thinking about putting the two agencies back together again.

We sent a message Wednesday to Doc Kokol, press secretary for DOH, asking how he plans to deal with the rapid onslaught of negative publicity, but we haven’t heard back.

DOH may want to look at how well the Toyota approach to public relations worked and revise its strategy.

--Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by email.