A Senate health-care panel on Wednesday voted 8-2 to support the confirmation of Scott Rivkees, the secretary of the Florida Department of Health and surgeon general.
The dissenting votes in the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee came from Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation and Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, who expressed concerns that Rivkees was investigated for sexual harassment because of comments he allegedly made after taking a position at the University of Florida in 2012.
While Book acknowledged that Rivkees is “an incredible doctor,” the senator, who was sexually abused as a child, expressed concerns that Rivkees dodged questions about the investigation.
According to a University of Florida report, Rivkees was alleged to have repeatedly told people, “If we can’t agree on this we’ll have to get naked in a hot tub and work it out.” Rivkees acknowledged making the comment “and may have said it more than once,” telling university investigators that a pediatric intensive care unit was in “disarray” and that the comment was meant as a joke, the report said.
When Book asked Rivkees about the remarks on Wednesday, the surgeon general said they was “mischaracterization of the facts.”
The surgeon general added, “I can assure you I have worked with hundreds if not thousands of individuals over the course of my career, and I have treated everybody with respect and dignity.”
Book continued pressing Rivkees on the subject, asking whether he has put in place policies to prevent sexual harassment at the Department of Health, a question Rivkees could not answer. Prior to casting her vote, Book told Rivkees that she wasn’t satisfied with his responses to her questions.
“Those comments aren't appropriate, and those are things that I am concerned, if not addressed, create a culture and a climate that isn’t safe for everyone who works in an environment,” she said. “And for you to not know if currently there is sexual harassment training in the department is a problem for me.”
Before joining the Department of Health, Rivkees served as chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine and physician-in-chief at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. He was appointed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis as surgeon general and department secretary and will need Senate confirmation.