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Gov. Rick Scott ranks Florida counties' health departments

Published Jul. 20, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Another arm of state government can be added to the growing list of agencies ranked at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott.

Through a public record request, the Times/Herald has obtained a copy of a report that rates the performance of the state's 67 county health departments.

Indian River County, with a raw score of 58 points out of 69, is at the top of the list. Liberty County's 23 points is the lowest. Hillsborough County ranked below the average score of 47, and was next-to-last among major metro counties.

The Department of Health, which came up with the ranking system at Scott's request, says the document completed in December is still a work in progress. The report includes health data, as well as the result of customer satisfaction and employee surveys. It also factors in financial stability and leadership effectiveness.

Although some county health officials said they have seen the report, the document hasn't been widely publicized. The Department of Health said it shared the ranking with county health officers in February, but also cautioned that its scope is limited.

"The department is actively working to refine the rankings tool through a work group of county health officers in order to create a more useful measurement system that accurately captures the public health efficacy of the individual county health departments," Department of Health press secretary Jessica Hammonds said in an email. "The department expects to finish its accountability process before the end of the year."

Of the state's seven largest counties, identified as metro areas, Broward had the highest raw score, 51, which ranks 19th overall. Miami-Dade and Pinellas both scored 50 to rank 21st. Hills­borough scored 44 points and is ranked 45th in the state. It was saddled by low scores in categories such as strategic planning, employee training and department finances.

The Department of Health says it intends to use the rankings as part of a performance improvement process.

"This evaluation tool for county health department performance is intended to assess current performance, drive improvement, and facilitate the sharing of best practices," interim communications director Donna Williams said in an email.

Scott's propensity for ranking state entities has drawn criticism in the past. In April, he agreed to keep a report ranking supervisors of elections off state websites after elections officials said the survey was flawed and didn't accurately reflect their ability to run a smooth election.

In January, the release of school district rankings based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores was criticized by educators who said the report overlooked other factors such as poverty and racial diversity, which impact test scores.

"Taxpayers expect Gov. Scott to hold government agencies accountable for their performance and how they spend taxpayer money," press secretary Lane Wright said in an email. "The best way to do that is to implement measuring systems that let us see how we're doing and where we can improve. Comparisons allow us to determine who is using the best practices and help everyone to benefit from that knowledge."

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It took nearly five weeks for the Department of Health to fulfill the Times/Herald's request for a copy of the county health department report. The state agency declined to make officials available to speak with a reporter.

Several county health department leaders also declined to comment on the rankings.

County health departments are funded by a combination of state and local funds, but administrators are employees of the state's Department of Health.

Maggie Hall, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department, said her agency had reviewed the health department rankings and had questions about the scoring system. For example, counties received between zero and three points for the performance of the chief health officer, but it wasn't explained how that number was determined.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@tampabay.com.

Health department rankings in Tampa Bay

CountyRaw Score Rank
Manatee5216
Pinellas5021
Hernando4733
Pasco4540
Hillsborough4445
Polk4254

See the complete rankings at blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.

Health department rankings in Tampa Bay

County

See the complete rankings at blogs.tampabay.com/buzz