Dr. Joseph Ladapo confirmed as Florida surgeon general along party lines (2024)

Jeffrey Schweers| Capital Bureau | USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

The Doctor is in.

The Florida Senate today gave its sealof approval toDr. Joseph Ladapo as the state's 6th Surgeon General, a vocal and controversial cheerleader for the pandemic policies of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis since pickinghim for the job five months ago.

Those policies, however, are out of step with mainstream, conventional medical recommendations and federal policies.

More coverage from the USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida:

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  • COVID in Florida: Decoding the data behind state surgeon general's policies
  • Fact checking Florida Surgeon General Ladapo: COVID, vaccine comments at odds with CDC

The24-15vote along party lines to confirm Ladapo's nomination was a predictable but rocky path for the Harvard-educated, former UCLAresearch professor, who hadfull support of Republicans.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said that tthe viewsLadapo hold might have gotten him banned from social media. "Maybe people are scared that we have a nominee that follows prescriptive norms that so many in national media have followed," Bean said.

But he said he met Ladapo and believes him to be a man of data: “He didn't just go to college. He went to Harvard. We have a national draft pick."

Senate Democrats, however, raised several objections to his views on mask and vaccine mandates, the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and lockdowns. They walked out of the firsthearing before the Health Policy Committeeon his confirmation in protest over his rambling, non-direct responses to their questions.

The second hearing, before the Ethics and Elections Committee, was extended to give members time to ask all their questions.

"Weextended time so everyone could ask every question of the candidate," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, Chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee. "That was a very long night. The report of the committee was made after this very extensive investigation."

Ladapo showed by his answers that "he is not the right person for this job," Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said during debate."His answers were evasive at best and sometimes contemptuous when answering questions about masks, social distancing and vaccines."

Noting that 68,900 Floridians have died from COVID-19, Berman said, "thousands of our constituents have unnecessarily died because of the failure" to follow the science.

And Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, added that Ladapo has "espoused political rhetoric over science."

Dr. Joseph Ladapo succeeds Scott Rivkees as Florida surgeon general

Ladapo was nominated byDeSantis in late September after his first surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, stepped down after serving for more than two years, most of that time from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As state health director, Ladapo oversees the Department of Health, a $3billion agency of more than17,000 employees. The agency oversees Florida’s 67 County Health Departments; 22 Children’s Medical Servicesarea offices; 12 Medical Quality Assurance regional offices; nine Disability Determinations regional offices; and three public health laboratories.

It also is responsible for numerous programs including epidemiology, immunization and communicable diseases, school health and health education, environmental health, emergency preparedness, eliminating health disparities, maintaining vital statistics, and the licensing and quality assurance of thousands of health professionals.

The day before the governorappointed surgeon general, Ladapo was hired by the University of Florida College of Medicine as a fully tenured research professor in a process that was fast-tracked and aided by Daytona Beach developer Mori Hosseini, the chairman of the UF Board of Trustees and a top advisor to the DeSantis campaign.

Under a special work contract with the state, Ladapo will spend 80% of his time as surgeon general, and 20% as a UF professor. His combined salary is $437,000 a year.

From day one, Ladapo's comments and decisions have caused an outcry from Democrats who say he's not qualified for the job of running the state's massive Department of Health and setting health policy for millions of Floridians.

Unlike his predecessor, who was largely kept out of public view after saying people would have to wear masks and practice social distancing for at least a year until a vaccine could be developed and approved, Ladapo has made several public appearances with DeSantis.

When his appointment was first announced, Ladapo said, the state's policies would not be driven by federal policies of fear. "Fear is done," he announced.He also said that policy decisions would be driven by data and science.

Ladapo also wasted no time following DeSantis's approach by doubling down on forbidding schools to require masks, and overturning school quarantine policies —giving parents the right to decidewhether to pull their children out of class if they've been exposed to COVID-19.

He raised concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine and its side effects when other health professionals were urging as many people as possible to get vaccinatedduring the Omicron surge. Instead, he and DeSantis pushed for more monoclonal antibody treatments, even though some of them proved ineffective against the omicron variant.

And he rewrote state testing policy, recommending that only those with serious symptoms get tested and asymptomatic people need not bother.He also refuses to disclose whether he's been vaccinated.

Ladapo alsoreceived flak for the Department of Health's decision to place Dr. Raul Pino, the Orange County Health Department chief,on administrative leave after urging his staff to get vaccinated when he discovered the department's low vaccination rate.

And during his Senate background check conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,a former supervisor saidthey could not recommend Ladapofor the position.

“In my opinion, the people of Florida would be better served by a Surgeon General who grounds his policy decisions and recommendations on the best scientific evidence rather than opinions,” said the supervisor, whom the FDLE did not name in its report to the Senate.

He generated headlines when he unapologeticallyrefused to wear a maskat the office of State Sen. Tina Polsky, who told him she had a serious illness that she later disclosed to be breast cancer. That incident drew the attentionofPresident Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who publicly rebuked Ladapo for disrespecting a Senate colleague and being "unprofessional."

Polsky, who had a chance to grill Ladapo extensively, said he is clearly a political appointee who has no plan for the pandemic or any other health crisis the state is facing.

Bean characterized the incident as a "lapse of judgment or bedside manner."

Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at jschweers@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

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Dr. Joseph Ladapo confirmed as Florida surgeon general along party lines (2024)

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