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Monday, October 18, 2021

Potential surgeon general investigated for misconduct at UF

Dr. Scott Rivkees has been the subject of investigations into sexual harassment and financial misconduct during his time at UF. Now, he is awaiting confirmation as the state surgeon general, where he could oversee the Florida Department of Health and more than 100 state health operations.

A former colleague of Rivkees, Dr. Satyanarayan Hegde, told The Alligator that Rivkees is unfit for the position because of his retaliatory nature and history of professional misconduct. 

Eight more of Rivkees’ colleagues anonymously raised similar concerns, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday. 

“I’m actually quite worried about the public health of Florida,” Hegde said. 

Rivkees will continue his employment with the university as well as the state’s health department if confirmed. He did not respond to two emails and four phone calls from The Alligator.

Two years after Rivkees began working as physician-in-chief at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, he was accused of making sexually suggestive remarks to staff, according to an investigation

“If we can’t agree on this, we’ll all have to get naked in a hot tub and work it out,” Rivkees allegedly told staff members, according to the report.

Rivkees was also accused of saying inappropriate remarks to veterinary students, which he later denied, according to the investigation. 

“We have something in common,” Rivkees was accused of saying, “Neither one of us can have sex with our patients.”

Upon learning of several complaints against Rivkees, the former dean of the UF College of Medicine, Dr. Michael Good, told investigators he “counseled” Rivkees, according to the report. 

There is no documentation of the counseling, the report read. Good resigned from his position at UF in 2018 and could not be reached for comment. It’s unclear if disciplinary action was taken. 

Rivkees was the subject of an additional investigation the same year after an anonymous person contacted the UF Office of Internal Audit and accused Rivkees of withholding information from his financial disclosures. 

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The chief audit executive found the claims to be true, according to the investigation. Rivkees did not disclose his consulting firm, Scott Rivkees Consulting, to the university. 

This was determined to be an oversight on Rivkees’ part, and he corrected his financial disclosures, the report read. 

In spite of multiple allegations against him, Rivkees has advanced through the college to become chair of the Department of Pediatrics, physician-in-chief of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and a member of the UF Health Shands Board of Directors during his eight years at the university. 

In a 2016 deposition against the UF Board of Trustees, former UF pediatric neurology division chief Dr. Paul Carney described a toxic work environment under Rivkees. 

Favoritism, nepotism and retaliation overtook the workplace, Carney said during his testimony. Coworkers like Dr. William Slayton felt powerless to react as they saw their salaries drop. 

“He (Slayton) said, ‘I’m afraid. I’m not going against this Chair. I’m afraid.’” Carney said. “I remember that.” 

Meanwhile, people who didn’t have the necessary credentials or experience were appointed to high-paying positions, he testified. 

Rivkees later sued Carney for defamation and settled. Carney told The Alligator that he signed a non-disparagement agreement and said he is no longer at liberty to speak about Rivkees.

Instead, he spoke about the failure of university officials. They flaunt the fact that they’re a top 10 university, he said, but they didn’t act to protect him and his coworkers. 

“What does this say about how they protect diversity and vulnerable groups and women?” Carney asked. “The university did very little to address that. The whole thing is sad and unfortunate.”

Contact Hannah Phillips at Follow her on Twitter @haphillips96.  

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