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Florida's New Surgeon General Keeps UF Employment

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s new surgeon general has negotiated an unusual two-year arrangement that allows him to remain employed at the University of Florida — and keep his tenured position — while also being in charge of the state Department of Health. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced April 1 that physician Scott Rivkees would take over the sprawling agency, but Rivkees did not start the job until this month, due in part to working out the agreement. Though the DeSantis administration noted that the arrangement is allowable under state law, it’s unusual, if not unprecedented, for the Department of Health secretary to have another job. Under terms of the  five-page agreement, Rivkees will remain  tenured and continue full-time employment with the university under “salary and benefits as agreed by (the) university, including but not limited to workers' compensation benefits.” Rivkees will be “assigned” to work as the Department of Health secretary, a position that doubles as the state’s surgeon general, the agreement said. The state will pay the university $140,000, in four quarterly installments of $35,000. The contract, dated Thursday, allows Rivkees to receive travel reimbursement. Rivkees reported Thursday to the Department of Health headquarters in Tallahassee, according to Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for DeSantis. Melanie Fridl Ross, a spokeswoman for UF Health, did not respond to questions about how the change in positions would affect Rivkees’ salary. He currently earns $546,810 from a variety of sources, including state funds, according to a state website. But in a statement to The News Service of Florida, Ross said Rivkees will keep his appointment as professor of pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine. In that capacity, she said, he will he will focus 10 percent of his time on his federally funded research projects and 10 percent on teaching. Ross also said Rivkees has resigned from three other positions because of his move to the Department of Health: chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, physician-in-chief of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, and member of the UF Health Shands Board of Directors. Rivkees was still listed Monday on the university’s website as  chairman of the department. He also was listed on the  UF Health Shands Board of Directors. The News Service reported in April that Rivkees had been the subject of a  university sexual harassment investigation, was found by a university auditor to have not properly filed financial-disclosure information and was suing a one-time colleague for libel and slander. DeSantis remained committed to his appointee. When the state created the modern-day health department in 1996, lawmakers required that it be run by a Florida-licensed doctor. Lawmakers tinkered with the law at the behest of former Gov. Charlie Crist to require that the secretary also serve as “state health officer” and have advanced training or extensive experience in public health administration. The department has more than 12,800 employees and is charged with ensuring public health and regulating health-care professionals. The agency has a budget of slightly more than $3 billion for the upcoming year. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, a former lawmaker, has been helping run the department since DeSantis took office, but she is not a doctor. Nunez this month attributed the delays in getting Rivkees on board as secretary with working out a contract that ensures there’s no conflicts between Rivkees’ post at the university and his position in state government. As part of the agreement signed Thursday, Rivkees will not oversee, conduct or participate in activities related to the Division of Children’s Medical Services. He also is prohibited from conducting or participating in activities related to the award or evaluation of grant funding, contractual agreements and payments or funding from any source that originates at the Department of Health and is provided to the University of Florida.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.