New health chief: 'a great advocate'

Published January 18, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday appointed a Harvard-educated doctor from Miami to run the Department of Health and gave her a second title as Florida's first surgeon general.

Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, 50, of Coral Gables, will be the chief protector and promoter of public health in Florida, from infant mortality to flu shots to HIV to obesity.

"I really will do my very best in everything I can to be able to provide all Floridians with easily accessible, affordable and quality health care," Viamonte Ros said after being introduced by Crist.

She said she would study changes in Massachusetts and California designed to provide coverage to those states' uninsured. More than 3-million Florida residents lack health insurance.

Crist said that by giving Viamonte Ros the newly created title of surgeon general, she would be a "great advocate" on major issues, especially children's health.

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Florida and across the country, and as a candidate, Crist said making young people more fit would be a priority.

A native of Philadelphia, Viamonte Ros most recently was manager of clinical operation support for Armor Correctional Health Services of Coconut Creek.

The Broward-based company provides health care to jails in Florida and other states, and Viamonte Ros was responsible for hiring doctors, dentists and nurses to work in jails.

Armor has contracts to provide medical care for three Virginia prisons and for jail inmates in six counties in Florida, including Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Broward.

Introduced to reporters for the first time, Viamonte Ros was unable to address some issues.

She avoided a question of whether the agency needs more money and said she had no opinion on the decision by voters last November to amend Florida's Constitution to require more state spending on advertising programs to reduce smoking by young people.

"I don't have enough information to be able to answer that question," she said, as Crist pulled her away from the lectern. The governor stepped in and pledged to implement the amendment.

"The will of the people will be heard in this administration over and over again," Crist said.

Viamonte Ros has a master's degree in public health from Harvard. Her undergraduate and medical degrees are from the University of Miami.

She has worked as a volunteer for Miami's homeless center and has written articles on obesity, mental health programs for Hispanic women and physician-assisted suicide.

Last fall, she accompanied a team of medical professionals to the Dominican Republic to help inmates there avoid the spread of the HIV.

Paul Hull of the American Cancer Society's Florida division said he was encouraged by Viamonte Ros' initial statements.

"It would appear she's interested in health disparity issues, which is a concern of ours," Hull said. "We look forward to working with her and educating her about tobacco prevention."

A spokesman for Crist said Viamonte Ros' salary and starting date have not yet been set. She succeeds Dr. M. Rony Francois of Tampa, the first Haitian-American to hold the state's top public health post.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.