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Liz Dudek to stay at AHCA; Dr. Frank Farmer to lead DOH

Gov. Rick Scott’s appointees to lead the state’s two health agencies came as a delightful surprise to some people who know them because they aren’t Scott's political cronies and both have solid records of achievement.

Scott announced late Monday that Liz Dudek will be secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration and Dr. Frank Farmer will be secretary of the Department of Health.

“Liz is an effective and hard-working leader at AHCA, and she will help me reorganize the state’s health care agencies to increase efficiency,” Governor Scott said in a press release.

"Dr. Farmer brings an impressive track record of medical leadership to the Department of Health, and he will further the agency's important mission to promote, protect and improve the health of all people in Florida."

In Dudek, who has been interim AHCA secretary since September, Scott is getting a seasoned administrator who knows how all parts of AHCA work, those who know her say.

Farmer, an Ormond Beach internist, is a former president of the Florida Medical Association, a retired military officer and a Ph.D. in history, all wrapped up in one.

“Wow!” said orthopedic surgeon Michael Wasylik of Tampa, who knows them both through state medical groups and boards, when he heard the news from a reporter.

“You have just made my day! I am just thrilled!”

Farmer, 69, said in a telephone interview that he was approached about applying for the post and had not even met Scott until a week ago. “I admire the stands he has taken,” Farmer said. “He says exactly what he’s going to do and then he does it.”

Farmer said he agrees with Scott on the need to reorganize and downsize DOH and make it more efficient. “There’s not an endless supply of money. You’ve got to be as efficient as possible. Do fewer things and do them well.”

He said he wasn’t prepared to go into specifics yet.

Even though Farmer has spent most of his career in other parts of medicine, he knows public health; his dissertation for his doctorate in history was on the eradication of hookworm from the Southern U.S. in the early part of the last century.

Born in Florida, Farmer served in Vietnam as a captain in the Army and is a recipient of the Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He has extensive experience in special operations and in the medical corps of the United States Army, Air Force, and Florida National Guard.

He has served as a battalion surgeon in the Florida National Guard, as a Flight Surgeon, a bioterrorism consultant to the Air Force, and as commander of the 919 Special Operations Medical Group. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel in 2004.

As a civilian physician, Farmer served as FMA president and on the Board of Governors for the American College of Physicians, Florida Chapter. He is a former chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine and is a current board member.

Farmer received his undergraduate degree in history from Stetson University, a master’s and Ph.D. in history from the University of Georgia, and his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia.

He and his wife Peggy have two sons: Kevin, an orthopedic surgeon on the University of Florida faculty, and Frank Jr., a financial advisor in Ormond Beach.

Dudek, as deputy secretary for Health Quality Assurance, ran the state’s licensure and certification division for health facilities, with a staff of 600. She led two other divisions in the agency, as well.

Health consultant Brady Augustine, a former Medicaid administrator who knows Dudek well but never worked for her directly, said her appointment gives him hope that “maybe things aren’t so bad after all” in Tallahassee.

Dudek works hard, knows what she’s talking about and treats her staff well, he said. “I think the world of her. She’s a great fit for the position, instead of some political appointee who doesn’t really know how things work.”

A mark of her competence is that she survived as a high-level administrator in three administrations, Augustine said. “It’s kind of hard to get to that level keeping your integrity intact, but she did.”

According to her bio on the AHCA web site, Dudek has 30 years of health-care experience, including working in a state institution with the developmentally disabled.

Both the Florida Medical Association and Florida Association of Health Plans issued statements following Scott's announcement applauding the appointments. Michael Garner, president and CEO of the health-plan group, called Dudek and Farmer "exceptional choices," with "a wealth of knowledge and leadership."

FMA's statement, attributed to President Madelyn Butler, said in part that Farmer "has an invaluable appreciation for the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship... Dr. Farmer is committed to making Florida a better place to practice medicine, for the patients who receive care and the physicians who provide it."

--Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 orby e-mail.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.