Citing a past sexual harassment investigation at the University of Florida, Senate President Bill Galvano said Wednesday the Senate will not vote during this year’s legislative session on confirming the state’s new surgeon general.
The move could put physician Scott Rivkees, named surgeon general Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, in limbo for months.
In a statement to The News Service of Florida, Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he and other senators have concerns with Rivkees’ appointment and that there is not enough time left in the 2019 legislative session to fully vet a nominee who has “faced these types of allegations.” The session is scheduled to end May 3.
“The very serious allegations against Dr. Rivkees are troubling to say the least,” Galvano said. “The confirmation process will provide the opportunity for the Senate to gather additional information, but certainly with what we know at this time, I am very concerned, as are other senators. “
Even without confirmation, Rivkees can serve as the state’s surgeon general. That’s because Florida law allows two legislative sessions to expire before an agency secretary who hasn’t been confirmed must step down. The Senate could take up the Rivkees confirmation in 2020.
The News Service of Florida reported Tuesday that Rivkees, 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, was the subject of a university sexual harassment investigation and, separately, was found by a university auditor to have not properly filed financial-disclosure information.
The university issued a statement Wednesday expressing support for Rivkees, who as surgeon general also will serve as secretary of the Florida Department of Health.
“Dr. Scott Rivkees is a talented physician who is well-equipped to advance the health and wellness interests of the state of Florida, and we look forward to the positive contributions he will make,” said the university’s statement, provided to the News Service by DeSantis’ office. “With respect to the concerns some have raised in the past, the University of Florida assessed, addressed and resolved any issues to our satisfaction.”
Rivkees’ attorney, Robert Bauer, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that Rivkees has acknowledged making inappropriate comments and has “moved on.”
The sexual harassment investigation stemmed from a complaint received in February 2014, according to a university investigation report.
Rivkees was alleged to have repeatedly told people, “If we can’t agree on this we’ll all have to get naked in a hot tub and work it out,” the report said. Rivkees acknowledged making the comment “and may have said it more than once,” telling investigators at the time that the pediatric intensive care unit was in “disarray” and that the comment was meant as a joke.
The report also said Rivkees was alleged to have told UF veterinary students at an off-campus event, “Well, we have something in common, neither one of us can have sex with our patients.” Rivkees denied the allegation and told UF investigators that he said to the students, “Make sure you don’t have relationships with your patients.”
Meanwhile, a financial audit, which was conducted in 2014, stemmed from an anonymous complaint that Rivkees had outside financial relationships that could pose a conflict of interest given his position with the university.
An auditor found that there was “partial merit” to the complaint and that Rivkees had not disclosed to the university his consulting firm, Scott Rivkees Consulting, which was developed to organize speaking engagements and sales of a book he wrote.
The audit said the non-disclosure was an oversight and that “no intent to deceive was indicated and is not suspected.” Rivkees subsequently completed the disclosure form.