By ALISA ULFERTS
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Health Department Secretary Robert Brooks is leaving his post to become a professor at Florida State University's new medical school.
Brooks, who has been health secretary since January 1999, takes over as associate dean for health affairs and professor of family medicine on Sept. 1. He signed a contract Friday, Brooks said.
"It's time our nation focuses on disease prevention and health promotion, and I'm looking forward to working with a new generation of young, aspiring doctors," said Brooks, 47.
In the 2 1/2 years he spent running the state Department of Health, which oversees services such as immunizations, family planning and AIDS prevention programs, Brooks said he is most proud of his work with the state's Closing the Gap program. Millions of dollars in grant money have passed through the program to mostly minority communities to help with health needs specific to those neighborhoods, Brooks said.
"It's helping communities meet their needs without the government deciding" what those needs are, he said. Communities have put together programs aimed at reducing health problems such as above average infant mortality rates and AIDS, and have gotten money through the Closing the Gap program to combat those ills, he said.
About $770,000 of the grant money was earmarked for Pinellas County, mostly to programs coordinated by the county health department. The programs aim to make sure men are getting tested for prostate cancer and to increase the immunization rates against various diseases in African-American, Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods.
Brooks said as an associate dean and professor, he will focus on teaching future doctors about the kinds of health problems they could encounter in the state's rural areas.
Joseph Scherger, dean of FSU's College of Medicine, said Brooks will bring an expansive knowledge of public health issues to the school.
"He's going to expand the scope of the medical school," Scherger said.
A former Republican state lawmaker from Winter Park, Brooks encountered some opposition from Democrats when Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to head the health department.
Some Democrats didn't like positions he'd taken on abortion. As a legislator, Brooks pushed a measure that would have forced women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours and obtain counseling.
Brooks' position, which is not yet tenured, will pay $225,000, an increase over his current salary of $156,000.