TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday named a top University of Florida doctor and professor as the state’s next surgeon general.
DeSantis announced that he was appointing physician Scott Rivkees as surgeon general, a position that doubles as secretary of the Florida Department of Health. Rivkees has spent the last seven years as chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Pediatrics, where he oversees more than 120 faculty members. The department’s clinical programs are based at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
The Republican governor called Rivkees, who is a graduate of the New Jersey Medical School and did postdoctoral and resident work at Harvard Medical School, a “very, very accomplished guy.”
DeSantis has been in office since early January but had struggled to fill the top post at the Department of Health, an agency that has a wide range of responsibilities, from regulating the growing medical-marijuana industry to overseeing a network of health clinics across the state.
Celeste Philip left the surgeon general’s post in January as former Gov. Rick Scott moved from the governor’s office to the U.S. Senate. Philip had been appointed to the job in 2016.
There had been speculation that DeSantis’s embrace of allowing smokable medical marijuana might make it difficult for him to find a new secretary, who by law must be a physician. DeSantis pushed through legislation last month to allow smokable marijuana, which had been banned, at least in part, because of concerns about the health effects of smoking.
During a Monday morning news conference at a fire station in Sanford, Rivkees briefly touched on the issue of medical marijuana. He noted that legislators had recently lifted the ban on smokable medical marijuana and that “we need to make sure these legislative initiatives are implemented properly.”
Rivkees said his appointment comes at a time of several “health challenges” in the state, including developing a medical workforce and making sure medicines are safe.
Another pressing health care problem in the state is the ongoing crisis with opioid addiction.
DeSantis on Monday also announced he was re-establishing the Office of Drug Control, which had been shut down by Scott. DeSantis said he wanted to make sure that state agencies operate with “one clear vision” in combating drug abuse. He added that one of the duties of the new office will be to coordinate with federal efforts.
The governor also briefly addressed a $270 million settlement that Oklahoma reached with Purdue Pharma after the state sued the drug manufacturer over its role in the opioid crisis. DeSantis said that settlement was “chump change.”
“We are going to work for more significant recovery,” said DeSantis about Florida’s ongoing lawsuits against several drug companies and drug-store chains.