Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando Health Department leader Phil Spence retiring

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Health Department administrator Phil Spence will retire in December, exactly one year after he arrived with a mandate to get the agency on firm financial footing.

Spence, 65, sent an email Thursday morning informing county commissioners of his decision to retire effective Dec. 1.

"Although my stay has been short, accepting this challenge and helping the Health Department turn things around has been a rewarding experience from which to finally end my working career," Spence wrote.

Spence, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, notified staffers last week, said department spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis.

"Although Health Department staff understood his next move after Hernando was retirement, many were surprised it came so soon," Ellis said.

The administrator's email offers insight into his decision.

"When I committed to accept the challenge of coming to Hernando County, I knew that I would have to be prepared to delay my pending retirement from state employment and I have done that," Spence wrote. "I also committed to myself that I would remain at the Health Department not only until the financial problems were fixed, but also until I felt comfortable that the 'human side' of the department was back on solid footing."

Spence, who is married and commutes from his home in St. Petersburg, said he also wanted to wait until the end of hurricane season.

He credited the "hard work and extraordinary effort" of his staff for bringing the department's reserve fund to 6.6 percent of its $7 million budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The reserve had dipped into the red by 3.2 percent by the time Spence arrived on Nov. 30 to replace longtime administrator Elizabeth Callaghan when she retired.

"The Health Department's future financial health looks very good, and with the continued support of the county it will remain healthy for the foreseeable future," he wrote.

Spence's decision marks the end of a relatively short career in public health.

A retired Army colonel who emigrated from England at the age of 12 and earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for service in Vietnam, he would eventually serve as a chief of staff for the Army National Guard headquarters, where he oversaw 1,100 employees and a budget of more than $5 billion.

He landed his first public health job in 2003, starting as administrative services director at the Highlands County Health Department. He held the same post in Manatee and Seminole counties, and was promoted to Seminole's assistant director in 2009.

Last fall, the state's then-assistant deputy secretary for health, Michael Sentman, asked Spence to stand in for the director in Franklin County and come up with ideas to improve the department's financial condition.

He was still in Franklin when Sentman called with the assignment in Hernando.

Like its counterparts throughout the state, the Hernando department has suffered financial hits on several fronts in recent years. Medicare reimbursements and state and federal funding continue to decrease while the county's high unemployment rate drives more residents to seek services priced on a sliding income scale. Callaghan was forced to lay off 10 people before she left.

Spence drafted a plan that aimed to bring in more clients with insurance, Medicare or Medicaid to offset the cost of providing services for indigent patients.

There have been no layoffs or pay cuts since he came on board. Some staffers who previously took a reduction have had their pay restored, Ellis said.

The most significant impact to services came in June, when the Brooksville office started to close three days each week. The office, at 300 S Main St., had provided general clinical services Monday through Friday. Now it's open for services on Tuesdays and Fridays. On the other weekdays, all services are provided at the department's new building on Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill.

The schedule change meant a longer trip on some days for clients who live in Brooksville and points east. Spence called it a necessary — though likely temporary — reaction to the rough economic climate.

There is no firm date to return to the former hours, but a "loose" target date is the end of this calender year, Ellis said.

Ellis said state officials have indicated they hope to have a successor in place before Spence retires so he can help with the transition.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he was surprised but not shocked by Spence's decision. Dukes praised Spence for being open and responsive when Dukes came to him with questions or concerns.

"I think he did a great job for Hernando County," Dukes said. "I hate to see him leave, but I respect his decision to retire."

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

Comments

Updated: 28 minutes ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco joins opioid litigation

Pasco joins opioid litigation

NEW PORT RICHEY — Once every three days in 2017, somebody in Pasco County overdosed on opioids. The statistic, revealed Tuesday by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, helped cement the Pasco County Commission’s decision a few minutes later to join ongoing lit...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Five Hernando County educators nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Awards

Hernando County Public Schools has five educators in the running for prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 in the 2017-2018 national LifeChanger of the Year awards. The program will give out 17 awards.Travis Bruns and Doug Poteet of Pine Grove Elemen...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Brooksville church starts ministry to feed the hungry

Brooksville church starts ministry to feed the hungry

BROOKSVILLE — It was the first sermon of 2017 at Grace World Outreach Church when Sue Bailey heard her pastor, David Garcia, talk about visions."He preached about a huge vision and said we should ‘stay the course’ and not let Satan distract us," Bail...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Chase to make $20B investment, raise wages

Chase to make $20B investment, raise wages

JPMorgan Chase announced Tuesday that it will boost wages, open new branches and hire thousands of new workers, citing improved economic performance and sweeping changes to the U.S. tax code. Wages will rise to between $15 and $18 an hour from a rang...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Column: The left is so used to being sold out that it can’t tell when it’s winning

Column: The left is so used to being sold out that it can’t tell when it’s winning

Democrats are feckless. When it counts, they always fold. After all, they’re more beholden to donors and lobbyists than they are to their base.This narrative is so old, so straightforward, and so pleasingly infuriating that it just rolls off the tong...
Updated: 2 hours ago
No reports of dog flu in Tampa Bay, but another virus could pose threat

No reports of dog flu in Tampa Bay, but another virus could pose threat

A nasty strain of the flu is sweeping the country and the CDC reports that deadly cases have increased in nearly every region of the United States. To make matters worse, your pets are also at risk of catching their own flu.But while Humane Society o...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Suspect in custody after man fatally shot in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies Tuesday, after deputies say he fatally shot his neighbor.Deputies identified the man as Qiu Feng Ke during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.The victim, a man in his 30s, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago