The Phoenix Flyer

Will Florida’s new surgeon general survive all the scrutiny?

By: - April 8, 2019 2:44 pm
Florida's surgeon general

Florida’s new surgeon general. Credit: University of Florida

A week after appointing a new surgeon general for Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to stem the bad press over the pick, even as the state Senate has decided to postpone confirmation hearings.

The governor’s office late Friday released a series of positive letters about Dr. Scott Rivkees, who was appointed April 1 as surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

But within days of the appointment, the News Service of Florida reported that Rivkees “has been embroiled in legal squabbles and investigations,” including a sexual harassment investigation while at UF in 2012 and allegations related to inappropriate comments.

“The very serious allegations against Dr. Rivkees are troubling to say the least,” said Republican state Senate President Bill Galvano, from Bradenton. “The confirmation process will provide the opportunity for the Senate to gather additional information, but certainly with what we know at this time, I am very concerned, as are other senators.

“At this point, the Senate has not officially received the appointment from the Governor’s Office. We do not have sufficient time left this session to fully vet a nominee who has faced these type of allegations.”

On Monday, the Florida Phoenix asked communications officials in the governor’s office, as well as Rivkees’ lawyer, Robert Bauer, if Rivkees still plans to serve as surgeon general. The officials have not responded.

The 2012 investigation at UF found that “Rivkees made sexually suggesting comments shortly after arriving at the school,” according to the News Service of Florida.

Rivkees, chair of the pediatrics department at the UF College of Medicine, was alleged to have told people, “If we can’t agree on this we’ll have to get naked in a hot tub and work it out,” the News Service reported.

Rivkees’ attorney, Robert Bauer, told The News Service of Florida that Rivkees has acknowledged making inappropriate comments and has “moved on.”

In another instance, the News Service said Rivkees allegedly told veterinary students, “Well, we have something in common, neither of us can have sex with our patients.”

In addition, Florida Politics reported that Rivkees allegedly claimed to be a speaker at a Nobel symposium, though that does not appear to be the case:

Bauer, Rivkees’ attorney, “told Florida Politics that Rivkees never personally claimed to have spoken at a Nobel symposia, though his curriculum vitae lists the speaking engagement.”

After the negative publicity, DeSantis’ office published a press release titled “What They Are Saying”  with more than a dozen doctors, experts and other supporters writing to praise Rivkees.

The experts described Rivkees as a “true physician, scientist and a great leader;” “a caring and hard-working man who is brilliant and a natural leader in the field of medicine,” and “extremely knowledgeable and collaborative. He is passionate about children’s issues, and the health of all Floridians.”

Here are links to the letters:


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.