Health Care

After losing confirmation fight, Dr. John Armstrong has new health department job

Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong listens to Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, as Gaetz comments at the Commission on Health Care and Hospital Funding meeting, Jan. 19, 2016, in Tallahassee.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong listens to Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, as Gaetz comments at the Commission on Health Care and Hospital Funding meeting, Jan. 19, 2016, in Tallahassee. AP

Last week, Dr. John Armstrong lost his job as the state surgeon general after the Senate refused to confirm his appointment, but he already has a new job in the health department’s leadership.

Armstrong, 53, has been named deputy secretary for administration, spokeswoman Mara Gambineri confirmed. In the job, he will oversee regulations on doctors and nurses, disability determinations and administrative functions like accounting and human resources.

But he hasn’t started yet.

“Dr. Armstrong remains employed with the Department of Health,” Gambineri said in an email. “However, he is currently on medical leave.”

After Armstrong was diagnosed last fall with colon cancer, he took a short leave from his job for treatment but later returned. He is on a new leave of undetermined length as he continues to receive treatment, Gambineri said. Armstrong’s salary as surgeon general was $141,000. His new salary is $119,000.

Under standard practice for any employee on sick leave, Armstrong continues to receive a paycheck and benefits, Gambineri said.

In the meantime, Michele Tallent is the interim deputy secretary. She has been temporarily filling the job since January, when the last deputy secretary, Marty Stubblefield, took a new job as director of financial institutions at the Office of Financial Regulation.

Gov. Rick Scott first appointed Armstrong, a former Army surgeon and medical officer at the University of South Florida, in 2012. He served in the position until last Friday evening, when the annual legislative session ended without a confirmation vote in the Senate.

In his place, Scott appointed Dr. Celeste Philip, a family medicine and public health expert, as interim surgeon general. She also served in the role when Armstrong underwent cancer treatment last year.

Armstrong faced criticism from some senators for the department’s handling of medical marijuana policy, the removal of 9,000 kids from health coverage under Children’s Medical Services and for cutbacks in county health departments even as Florida leads the nation in new HIV cases.

Still, the governor stood by him.

“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.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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