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Gov. Rick Scott names new acting surgeon general


Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the second-in-command at the state Department of Health as acting surgeon general after the Senate did not confirm Dr. John Armstrong for the position during the legislative session.

Effective immediately, Dr. Celeste Philip will take over as the secretary of health and surgeon general. Armstrong lost his job when the legislative session ended at 6:46 p.m. Friday after he was not confirmed by the Florida Senate for two years in a row.

In 2013, Philip, who has expertise in family medicine and public health, was named deputy secretary at DOH. She served as interim surgeon general last fall when Armstrong underwent treatment for colon cancer. She has been with the department since 2008 

In addition to deputy secretary, Philip is the deputy state health officer for the Children's Medical Services program. Changes to that program are among the reasons senators opposed Armstrong's confirmation.

Last year, DOH removed 9,000 sick children from coverage under the program, and it also eliminated CMS's standards for pediatric heart surgery. A bill pushing for standards to be re-instituted was short-lived in the Legislature this year.

Armstrong's confirmation was further derailed after reports in the Times/Herald about reductions to personnel and patient visits during his tenure even while rates of STDs like HIV rose dramatically.

Earlier this week, Senate President Andy Gardiner said he would allow the confirmation to end in the chamber's Ethics and Elections Committee, where Armstrong did not have enough support to win approval and proceed to a floor vote.

Last year, he was not confirmed during the showdown over Medicaid expansion.

Still, Scott has stood by the embattled surgeon general, who was among his longest-serving agency heads after being appointed in 2012.

“Even while battling cancer in recent months, Dr. Armstrong displayed unwavering determination to protect Florida families, and I truly appreciate his hard work," Scott said in a written statement Friday. He has been instrumental in ensuring Florida is the leading destination for cancer research and treatment, and has done a tremendous job preparing Floridians and visitors when our state has been confronted with health epidemics like Zika or Ebola."

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who led the opposition against Armstrong's confirmation, said he believes Scott has every right to appoint who he wants to the job and that he did not support Armstrong because of his three-year record. This new surgeon general will not have that record.

"I've been second-in-command many times, and I do what first-in-command tells you to do," Braynon said. "So I would give that person the opportunity to be a different person."