Health department exec Homer Rice ousted, seemingly for candid comments

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In 2008, when then-Governor Charlie Crist was hot on the campaign trail and perhaps vying to join Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid, his personally appointed State Surgeon General Ana Viamonte-Ros was vocal in her support for Barack Obama. Viamonte-Ros, head of the Department of Health, was known to buck executive office policy more than once — sometimes even lobbying contrary to what the Governor’s staff had directed. But she was one of only a few agency heads to remain in her post for the entirety of Crist’s tenure.

That’s just a point for comparison. Fast forward to June of 2013, when Leon County Health Department Director Dr. Homer Rice was ousted after 36 years with the agency and eight years in the top post, over a comment he made at a Capital Area Healthy Start meeting.

During a presentation about Leon County’s spike in infant deaths, Rice was quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat as saying that while local health care was in line with the rest of the state, “the rest of the state sucks.”

Nobody has outright stated that this is why Rice was forced to retire, agreeing to resign three years sooner than he had expected to do so. But the timing and innuendo is clear.

“Dr. Rice had complained openly that he feared losing his job if he criticized in any way the policies or practices of the Florida Department of Health,” said Dr. Ed Holifield, physician and activist. “I was present on at least two occasions when such fear was expressly stated or implied.”

The Democrat may have more on this Thursday. Stay tuned.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.