Health director awaits approval

Published January 6, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - A doctor for Florida's environmental health agency is slated to become Pasco County's next health department director.

David R. Johnson is the Florida Department of Health's pick to replace retiring Pasco director Marc Yacht, who leaves at the end of February after nearly 20 years. County commissioners are expected to agree to Johnson's appointment Tuesday.

Johnson, 53, whose resume includes 23 years in medicine, has been medical executive director of the state's environmental health division since 2003. The state division oversees testing of drinking water, beach water and waste sites. It also inspects public pools and sewage systems.

In Pasco, Johnson would step into a key role, as the county seeks to create more health care services for underinsured residents to reduce their use of emergency rooms.

A hurricane shelter will be built that also will be used as a clinic to offer treatment for underinsured patients. Yacht played a key role in a network of similar health care clinics also being established around Pasco. Other key duties for the agency include environmental health, preventative education and medical treatment.

The move from state to county government would not be a step down for Johnson, Yacht said, adding that county jobs are sought after.

In Pasco, Johnson - a physician like Yacht - would oversee a department with 15 employees and a $10-million budget.

He directly supervises nine people for the state, according to his resume.

Yacht was paid $145,000 annually, and said the pay range for a new director will be $120,000 to $150,000, depending on negotiations. Johnson's salary in Tallahassee is $113,200.

Johnson said Friday he did not want to comment about the appointment until he is approved.

County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said Johnson told her in an interview he wanted to move close to a daughter in the Tampa Bay area. She and Yacht said they anticipate that commissioners will approve his appointment.

While the state agency hires the county director, it prefers that local government agrees with the choice to avoid disputes.

Johnson was recommended over two other candidates: Kelli Maw of Hernando County, and physician Suzanne Smith of Pasco, said Fernando Senra, a state spokesman.

"I think he's going to be a very, very good fit for Pasco County," Hildebrand said.

Born in Oklahoma, according to Ohio licensing records, Johnson received his medical degree from Wright State University in Ohio in 1983. He added a master's degree in environmental health in 1989 from the University of Cincinnati. Last year, he completed a master's in health administration from the University of Florida.

Before joining the state's environmental health agency as a bureau chief in 1999, he had a private practice in occupational and environmental medicine and directed similar services for the Naples Community Hospital system. He did similar work in Ohio before coming to Florida.

In the 1980s, he practiced family medicine and served as chief of a primary care clinic at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina.

His record in Ohio and Florida is unblemished, according to licensing reports. Deputy Florida Health Officer Bonnie Sorensen described him as an "asset" who will become "a leader in the community" in a Dec. 14 letter to Hildebrand.

After Yacht, 66, steps down, he intends to stay on community boards and write fiction and nonfiction. The Hudson resident said he has not decided what else to do in retirement.

"I'm not sure how I'm going to tolerate not working," he said.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.