Health Department in Turmoil Over High Level Departures
Several high-level employees have left the Florida Department of Health in recent months, and one of the latest to leave said the departures highlight an agency abandoning its public service mission for political ideology.
“It’s treating an agency as your personal fiefdom and appointing people who’ll do what you tell them to,” said Daniel Parker, until Thursday the assistant director at DOH’s Division of Environmental Health. “But the people with a long record of public service, whose main concern is public health – that leaves them out in the cold.”
Parker resigned last week, having been notified he’d soon be laid off, after 14 years and satisfactory evaluations.
He joins an exodus that since last year has claimed former DOH Secretaries Kim Berfield and Frank Farmer, longtime Children’s Medical Services director Phyllis Sloyer, environmental health chief Lisa Conti, emergency medical operations director Jean Kline, chief legal counsel Julie Meadows-Keefe, family services director Annette Phelps, Deputy Secretary for Administration Gary Mahoney and associates Matt Kirkland and Rose Leah Gardner, and epidemiology director Julia Gill.
Several of the departures were reported recently by online news site Health News Florida, others have been announced by those who have left or by the agency.
At least one high level, veteran employee was escorted out by security guards.
“I think there are a variety of reasons people are leaving,” said Sandra Magyar, executive director of the Florida Public Health Association. “I know that some have chosen to move on – most to other jobs.”
The result, said Parker, has been to weaken the agency. “You can just look and see the people they’ve laid off,” he said.
Last Thursday, on his way out, Parker, who is running for the Tallahassee city commission, emailed hundreds of professional colleagues “in praise of public service,” as he put it in his subject line.
“It has been difficult to watch a once proud agency succumb fairly quickly to neglect and erratic leadership,” he wrote. “This has been done in the misguided belief that public service is not necessary, and people are as interchangeable as parts.”
He wrote that the number of executive-level changes at DOH in the last two years “probably mirrors the last ten. The last ten probably mirror the previous 50.”
On Friday Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong announced the appointment of Jennifer Tschetter as general counsel, effective immediately; she has been the deputy general counsel.
And on Thursday, Deputy Secretary for Health Steven Harris named Stacy Shiver the new chief of the Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Diseases; he has been serving as interim bureau chief.
Officials at the Department of Health did not return calls for comment.
The Department of Environmental Protection, however, confirmed that Lenny Zeiler, formerly DOH’s director of legislative planning, has joined DEP as an environmental administrator in the Office of Water Policy and Eco Restoration.
Magyar said she hopes the turnover doesn’t cause a loss of public health experience or institutional knowledge at DOH.
“There’s always a concern when you’ve got a number of people who’ve left who have a significant amount of history,” she said. “[But] I think you see that throughout state government. I don’t think [DOH] is unique to that.”
Before being forced out, Parker had qualified to run for the Tallahassee City Commission against former Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox, and said he would devote himself to his campaign.
By Margie Menzel