Michael Peltier: Rep. Hudson eyes health agency

MICHAEL PELTIER

— The Florida Department of Health would be reorganized and its mission reined in under a measure the House sponsor says is needed to maximize efficiencies in a sprawling agency that now oversees a gamut of initiatives from emergency response to outreach and counseling efforts.

But a proposed committee bill to reduce the scope of the agency met with initial skepticism from a key senator who said it’s too late in session to get such legislation through and it may not be a good idea even if adequate time existed.

Released late Thursday, the proposal would reduce the number of agency missions from 12 to seven in an attempt to more clearly focus agency responsibilities, said House sponsor Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples.

Hudson said the goal is to restructure the agency by setting up more objective performance criteria, increasing legislative oversight and shedding some responsibilities that have been assumed by the public health agency since its creation in 1996.

“They have some things that we believe need to be honed down a little bit,” Hudson said Friday. “Our and citizens expect us to be focused. The Department of Health has a mission that is a little broad and unwieldy.”

Created as part of a reorganization that also produced the Department of Children and Families, the agency now employs 17,000 and oversees a budget of $2.9 billion. Hudson said the agency’s roles have been allowed to expand largely unchecked, a situation he said is about to change.

Agency officials will have until Dec. 1 to produce organizational plans for seven divisions to reflect the streamlined mission outlined in the bill. The divisions themselves would sunset on July 1, 2011, unless re-enacted by lawmakers.

Among the reorganization proposals, the bill would require DOH to get legislative approval before accepting federal grants, which often come with strings attached that require further state funding for the programs to continue.

The House proposal also calls for the elimination of some programs including the Children‘s Early Intervention program and the office of women’s health strategies. Other functions would be merged.

Hudson said the public health agency needs to return to its traditional role of protecting the public from contagious diseases, maintain vital statistics and coordinate relief efforts in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.

The plan has its critics. Chief among them is Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, and chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services budget committee. Peaden said last week the move may not save money and would take time and attention away from other priorities as the session careens toward conclusion.

Hudson said he was surprised by Peaden’s concern and said he’ll continue to push the measure forward.

“I remain undeterred,” Hudson said.

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E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net

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