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Rick Scott makes it official: Celeste Philip named Florida surgeon general

Dr. Celeste Philip

Florida Department of Health

Dr. Celeste Philip

Dr. Celeste Philip, who has been acting surgeon general since March, was on Wednesday appointed to the permanent job running the Florida Department of Health.

Gov. Rick Scott first named Philip as the temporary replacement for Dr. John Armstrong, who the Senate refused to confirm for the job.

Since then, she has gone on a tour of health facilities across the state and announced a healthy baby initiative. She has also faced tough questions from members of Congress about changes to the state's count of new HIV cases.

"Dr. Philip has also been working diligently with county health departments and local mosquito control districts to ensure our state is ready to combat the possible spread of the Zika virus," Scott said in a statement.

The surgeon general, also the secretary of DOH, is the top public health official in the state. Philip takes over full-time control of the department at a crucial time as it faces the threat of a Zika outbreak, and questions about the initial roll-out of a medical marijuana program and the count of new HIV cases.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week, Philip said she was confident the HIV data, which was revised downward earlier this year, had not been manipulated.

She also said HIV remained a top priority for the department.

“We just conducted a strategic planning process over the last eight months and looking at our HIV data, we decided to continue our efforts to make sure we identify people that are HIV positive but don’t know it, and make sure we help them get into treatment,” she said.

Previously, Philip was deputy secretary for health, overseeing the Children's Medical Services program and communicable diseases such as HIV. Those programs were among those that concerned members of the Senate who did not confirm Armstrong to stay in the job.

She also was acting surgeon general when Armstrong took a leave of absence last fall to undergo treatment for colon cancer.

In a statement Thursday, Philip said she will be committed to improving public health in Florida.

"With our state and local partners, we will maintain our commitment to addressing community health needs, developing HIV reduction and prevention strategies and preparing our state to combat viruses like Zika," she said.

Philip, a family and preventative medicine doctor, also has advanced training in public health.

Her appointment is effective immediately, but she must be confirmed by the Florida Senate by the 2018 legislative session.

Times reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 2:25pm]


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