1. Florida Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's office touts support for embattled surgeon general

Published Feb. 26, 2016

Senators aren't too pleased with Dr. John Armstrong.

But some health care groups are happy to endorse the embattled surgeon general, whose confirmation is in jeopardy. And Gov. Rick Scott's office and the Department of Health are making sure everyone knows about it.

The governor's office and DOH communications staffs spent Friday sending out press releases touting support, an unusual move as Armstrong heads into a confirmation hearing Tuesday when he could be voted down, losing his $141,000 job running DOH.

As of Friday afternoon, both communications shops had released letters under the heading "In Case You Missed It" from the Florida Medical Association, Leading Age Florida, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and AIDS Health Care Foundation.

The latter group has been critical of Armstrong's handling of rising HIV infections in Florida, which leads the nation in new cases. In that same time, DOH's county health clinics have shrunk.

In reporting highlighting thoses trends, David Poole, director of legislative affairs for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation told the Times/Herald last month, "Without leadership at the head of the agency speaking about this, it creates a hurdle."

Now, though, his group is on board with Armstrong, consenting to have a letter of support Poole wrote to Senate Rules Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, widely distributed by DOH. Since January, Poole said, he has been pleased by how much Armstrong has talked about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the state.

"We are seeing all the things that need to be happening," Poole said. "We feel like it's important to support anyone in leadership that we feel like are doing what we think they need to do."

There's another element of that support, though: Not knowing who Scott might appoint if Armstrong loses his job.

"If the surgeon general, who now we know does embrace this issue, if we do not have him confirmed for the remainder of the term ... We're very concerned about who might succeed him," Poole said.

Armstrong's confirmation is on shaky ground. A hearing was cancelled at the last minute Tuesday after it was clear the surgeon general would not have enough support in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee for his confirmation to pass. A second attempt at a hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.