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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate panel postpones confirmation of Dr. John Armstrong as surgeon general



A confirmation hearing for Dr. John Armstrong, the state's surgeon general, was delayed Tuesday after there weren't enough votes on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee to let him keep his job.

With four Democrats and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, poised to vote against Armstrong Ethics and Elections Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, pulled the state's top doctor and secretary of the Department of Health off the day's agenda.

Flores was the only Republican to vote against Armstrong in his first hearing in the Health Policy Committee last week. Since then, she said she hasn't received adequate answers to questions about reductions in county health departments. On Armstrong's watch, the county health clinics have seen a reduction in staffing as well as the number of patient visits. Armstrong said those patients are now going to other charitable health centers, but Flores said he hasn't sent her data she requested to confirm that.

"Overall, what we want to see is the surgeon general should be someone that has a strong commitment to public health," Flores said. "And there have been a series of issues that perhaps question what that commitment to public health is."

For the past year, Armstrong has been under fire for the removal of kids from the Children's Medical Services program, the repeal of standards for pediatric heart surgery, the slow rollout of medical marijuana and rising HIV infections amid cutbacks to county health departments, highlighted by Times/Herald reporting last month.

Armstrong, who was appointed in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott, must be confirmed by the full Senate this year or he will lose his $141,000-a-year job. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he would not support a vote by the chamber on any of Scott's appointees without the support of the Ethics and Elections Committee.

The governor's aides have been talking to members of the 10-person committee, trying to secure enough votes for the surgeon general after it was clear he was in danger of not being re-confirmed to run the Department of Health.

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2016 2:46pm]


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