A state House committee on Wednesday was briefed on the workings at the mammoth Florida Department of Health, the only health care related agency in Florida that remains leaderless.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was sworn into office Tuesday, has appointed secretaries for the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
But the Department of Health secretary — who doubles as the state’s surgeon general and is in charge of 13,410 employees and a $2.96 billion operating budget — remains a mystery.
Rumors are flying in Tallahassee that infectious-disease specialist and former state lawmaker, Bob Brooks, has emerged as the leading candidate to head the department.
Other candidates the DeSantis administration was said to be considering were Jacksonville surgeon Mark Dobbertien, and John J. Pirrello, a family physician from Hudson.
In an interview with The News Service of Florida Wednesday, Brooks said that he spoke with DeSantis before the holidays and “gave him input and suggestions” about health care in the state.
But Brooks stressed that he had not heard back from DeSantis and that he has “not been offered anything.”
Brooks, who did not serve on the DeSantis transition committee on health and wellness, said the meeting with DeSantis provided an opportunity for him to share his thoughts.
Brooks said that the meeting was arranged by “someone who knows both of us,” but stopped shy of providing any more details, including whether or not he had a face-to-face meeting with DeSantis or how long it lasted.
If DeSantis taps Brooks for the position, it will be a homecoming of sorts.
Brooks was first elected to the Legislature in 1994, and during his tenure was known for his strident opposition to abortion rights. He also condemned Walt Disney World for offering benefits to gay employees’ partners.
In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush tapped Brooks to head the DOH. Among other things, Brooks increased spending on abstinence programs while secretary.
Following the Bush administration, Brooks joined Florida State University in 2001 and helped establish its medical school. He joined the faculty at the University of South Florida in 2009. Brooks tried unsuccessfully to return to the Florida Legislature in 2012 but was edged by Democrat Linda Stewart.
The DeSantis administration remains tight-lipped but Alan Levine, who also worked for Bush and who serves as the vice-chairman of the transition committee on health and wellness, praised Brooks.
“I think he would be a great pick.” Levine said.
— By News Service of Florida staff writer Christine Sexton.