While the University of Florida appeared eager to hire Joseph Ladapo after he was named the state’s new surgeon general last year, a former supervisor in California seemed less enthused about his qualifications, according to records that surfaced Thursday.
A supervisor at the University of California at Los Angeles offered unflattering comments about Ladapo on an employment verification form that was described in a background report prepared for Ladapo’s confirmation by the Florida Senate. Ladapo had worked as an associate professor at UCLA’s school of medicine since 2016.
“Would you rehire the applicant?” the form asked.
“No,” the supervisor answered. “I have recruited new faculty and do not have the resources to re-hire Dr. Ladapo.”
The form asked if the employer was aware of any derogatory information. “Yes,” came the response. “Most of this is described in the public press/media.”
Another question: “Would you recommend the applicant as Surgeon General of Florida and (have) confidence in his ability, honesty and integrity to perform related duties?”
The answer: “No. In my opinion, the people of Florida would be better served by a Surgeon General who grounds his policy decisions and recommendations in the best scientific evidence rather than opinions.”
The UCLA supervisor, who is unnamed in the report, went on to state that Ladapo caused “concern among a large number of his research and clinical colleagues and subordinates who felt that his opinions violated the Hippocratic Oath that physicians do no harm.” The person also stated that Ladapo created “stress and acrimony” during his last year and a half of employment by publishing op-eds with controversial beliefs surrounding masking, vaccines, natural immunity and lockdowns.
Details of the file were first reported Thursday by the USA Today Network-Florida.
Ladapo, who has supported limiting workplace vaccine mandates and shares Gov. Ron DeSantis’ views about the effectiveness of lockdowns, was moved forward by a Senate committee last week after Democrats walked out. He must still be confirmed by the full Senate.
Requests for comment from UCLA’s chief of general internal medicine, the division under which Ladapo worked, were redirected to UCLA Health spokesperson Phil Hampton, who said the organization had nothing to add.
The University of Florida moved quickly to hire Ladapo last fall, a sequence of events that prompted an internal investigation by faculty to find out whether university procedures were followed. That inquiry is expected to be completed by mid-February.
The senior vice president for UF Health asked other officials to “expedite this communication” in emails about Ladapo’s application for a College of Medicine position. College of Medicine dean Colleen Koch also seemed eager to welcome Ladapo, writing: “future state of FL surgeon general - we can accommodate whatever he wants in terms of meeting times!”
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
University spokesman William Levesque said in a statement Thursday that Ladapo completed the standard process candidates follow, including multiple rounds of interviews and reference checks. The university received “several outstanding letters of recommendation from UCLA,” he said.
Records previously released by UF included several positive comments about Ladapo from his UCLA colleagues.
Carol Mangione, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research there, gave her “enthusiastic support” to his joining UF, calling him one of the most “productive” faculty members.
Another person, Soma Wali, wrote in a letter of recommendation that Ladapo was “an outstanding colleague and friend” and conveyed her “highest degree of support for him.” She pointed to his work to use behavior economics and medicine to address health disparities in low-income populations. Wali is executive vice chairperson of medicine for Affiliated Hospitals at UCLA and chairperson of the Department of Medicine at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.
Florida Department of Health spokesperson Weesam Khoury said in an email that the report appeared to be part of an attempt to “smear” Ladapo prior to his Senate confirmation.
“It’s unfortunate that a single comment from a disgruntled supervisor would find facilitating discussions a cause for concern, especially during such an ever-evolving medical landscape,” Khoury said. “This is not cause for concern. Doctors who were considered ahead of their time were applauded for their brilliance throughout history, but it now appears that being at the forefront of ideas and following the data is now considered a political game.”
Khoury also added: “We insist you include positive comments instead of writing a one-sided smear piece.” Khoury included many of Ladapo’s achievements, such as his research on improving health disparity outcomes, serving as a columnist for Harvard Focus and receiving the Daniel Ford Award for his research in health services and outcomes.
When asked about the negative comments from the UCLA supervisor, Senate President Wilton Simpson joked: “I suspect that doctor did not go to the University of Florida.”
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, also defended Ladapo in an email.
“We’re fortunate to have a State Surgeon General who is courageous enough to follow data, not politics, and to speak out about what the science actually tells us — even if it means dissenting from the dominant narrative,” she said.
Times/Herald staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.