Health care policymakers, practitioners and advocates from across the political spectrum have been recently confronted by an array of controversial questions in Florida. What’s the best way to respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Under what circumstances should a woman have access to an abortion? Should the state allow youths to undergo gender-affirming treatment? And of course, debates continue each year over the level of government funding, controlling medical costs and the appropriate size of the state’s safety net.
And yet, the key players in Florida’s health care sector by and large are aiming for the same goal – figuring out the best way to keep the state’s residents healthy. City & State Florida’s Health Care Power 100 identifies the most important figures in the space, including government officials, hospital and insurance CEOs, leaders of trade associations and professional organizations, medical school presidents, lobbyists, entrepreneurs and others who are shaping the medical systems that serve Florida.
Since he was named Florida’s surgeon general last year, Dr. Joseph Ladapo has become both a star and a lightning rod. He became a favorite of the conservative community first for his opposition to mask mandates, then for his stance against transgender care and COVID-19 vaccines for kids – and angered progressives for the same reasons. The health policy researcher, who’s a professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine, has also had to deal with monkeypox and opioid abuse in his role as secretary of the Florida Department of Health. Now add “author” to his résumé: His book, “Transcend Fear: A Blueprint for Mindful Leadership in Public Health,” published in August.
Simone Marstiller is solidifying her reputation as a “go-to” person to lead agencies and offices for Florida governors. Her extensive résumé includes stints as an appellate judgeship and other leadership posts under Jeb Bush. For Gov. Ron DeSantis, she first was juvenile justice secretary, then moved over to lead the Agency for Health Care Administration. The agency – which runs the state’s $25.2 billion Medicaid program and licenses the state's 48,500 health care facilities – is where she successfully fast-tracked one of her boss’ controversial priorities, banning Medicaid from paying for what’s known as “gender-affirming care” for transgender patients.
Just as the waves of COVID-19 cases subsided, hospitals in central and west Florida readied themselves for the surge of wounded from Hurricane Ian. And Mary Mayhew once again kept communication lines open, speaking on hospitals’ behalf as they evacuated patients to safer facilities and treated those devastated by the storm. A former DeSantis appointee and now a top industry lobbyist, Mayhew continues to push for a better trained medical workforce and solutions to increase the pipeline of employees staffing the state’s 200-plus large facilities and health care systems.
Emphasizing innovation and collaboration, this popular hospital CEO has transformed his academic medical center into one that leverages new technology to meet patient demands since taking over in 2017. That includes $550 million plans for a growing medical district in downtown Tampa. Operating a health system on the frontlines of coronavirus care, John Couris also served on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ task force to reopen Florida and quickly aligned with the governor to criticize the federal decision to limit the delivery of monoclonal antibody treatments to pandemic patients in Florida.
A former banker and Miami city manager, Carlos Migoya has been in charge of the Jackson Health System since 2011, when he came on and quickly fixed its finances. The sprawling public health system’s largest hospital, Jackson Memorial Hospital, is among the biggest in Florida, with over 1,500 beds. During the coronavirus pandemic, the system was one of the most impactful in getting Miami-Dade residents vaccinated, immunizing over 175,000 people in just four months, including 55% of the Black population of the county. The system also heavily encouraged its employees to get vaccinated to increase safety for its patients.
Baptist Health is South Florida’s largest nonprofit health care system, with approximately 25,000 employees and more than 4,000 affiliated physicians. In October, Bo Boulenger was promoted to the position of chief executive, taking the reins from Brian Keeley, who retired after leading the system since 1986. Boulenger now oversees the system’s 12 hospitals and 200 outpatient facilities and physician practices, including a highly rated flagship hospital. In total, the system treats more than a million people annually and brings in billions of dollars in revenue.
Over eight terms, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Bay Democrat, has thrown her energy behind health-related issues. A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee's health subcommittee, Castor helped draft the 2010 Affordable Care Act and, more recently, has championed legislation to ensure abortion and contraception rights, fortify the strained health care workforce and improve accountability in government health programs. Castor also co-founded the Children's Health Care Caucus and recently sponsored a bill to fund children’s mental health services.
A former mayor of West Palm Beach, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel has become a strong voice for health care issues in her nine years in Congress and hopes to keep doing so – assuming she fends off Republican Dan Franzese in November’s general election. In June, she joined other Florida Democrats criticizing Gov. Ron DeSantis and Surgeon General Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo’s refusal to order COVID-19 vaccines for children served by local health departments. She also has sounded the alarm over the state’s new 15-week abortion ban, and championed Medicare coverage of telehealth services.
From parental abortion consent to Medicaid policy, state Sen. Aaron Bean has long brought conservative leadership to the Senate’s health policy debates. Many of the chamber’s recent health and social service bills bear the sponsorship of Bean, who previously served as the Senate’s health policy chair. The state's booming health industry, in turn, is a major donor to the four-term senator's campaign as the Northeast Florida Republican and Gov. DeSantis ally is likely heading to Congress after winning a pivotal Republican primary this year. Two other Republican state lawmakers that chaired key health care committees this past session are also on the move: state Rep. Bryan Avila is moving up to the state Senate, and fellow Republican Rep. Colleen Burton has raked in large sums from the health care sector in her state Senate bid.
Dr. Kenneth A. Scheppke was named deputy secretary for health under Dr. Joseph Ladapo late last year. He came to the post with a weight of experience, including State Emergency Medical Services medical director and chief medical officer at the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Before his appointment, he often appeared with Gov. Ron. DeSantis at openings of sites for monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 treatment. And he has been described as the "visionary" behind the state’s new addiction care effort, Coordinated Opioid Recovery, or CORE.
As CEO of a national, diversified $27 billion enterprise based in Jacksonville, Patrick Geraghty continues to emphasize patient-centered health solutions. The company promotes 24/7 virtual care, in-person neighborhood centers for members wanting expert health advice and provides low or no-cost providers in its network. Florida Blue recently negotiated a new contract with Tampa’s BayCare Health System, which includes about 85,000 patients covered by the insurance giant. The company also became the official sponsor of major league soccer team Inter Miami CF, and the club’s 50,000-square-foot training facility will bear its name.
Thanks to increased state funds resulting in about $419,000 per facility, Florida’s nursing homes and long-term sites are in the process of increasing employee pay and addressing staff shortages. Much of that win can be credited to Emmett Reed asking lawmakers to work toward fully funding the quality payment incentives put into place five years ago. He relays the dire need for better paid and specialty staff, and the recent pandemic and natural disasters like Hurricane Ian just exacerbate the growing demand. The association represents close to 600 long-term care centers.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former chief of staff, Broward Health President and CEO Shane Strum left the administration in 2021 to helm one of the nation’s 10 largest safety-net health care systems as it was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since his return to the health care sector, he has backed a millage tax rate increase to help Broward Health recover from the pandemic. He also has made several new hires in key executive positions, leaving a clear mark before the halfway point of his three-year contract. The system’s flagship hospital is the 716-bed Broward Health Medical Center.
Florida’s uninsured population relies on the medical facilities that will not turn them away. Justin Senior advocates for these 14 safety-net hospitals that take care of more than a quarter of hospital admissions statewide. These were the hospitals on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, and several are now inundated with hurricane survivors. Past state agency leadership posts in Medicaid operations and state regulation of health care institutions have given Senior a big-picture view of the issues, including the challenges ahead. According to the alliance’s latest information, Florida’s supply of doctors by 2035 will only meet 76% of the expected demand.
As Gov. Ron DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff overseeing eight agencies and departments, including Health and Health Care Administration, Katie Strickland plays a quiet but outsized role in health care policy in the state of Florida. She was deputy communications director when Courtney Coppola, who previously held the post, exited the administration. Strickland stepped in to wide acclaim from the state’s health care community. It didn’t hurt that she was communications director at the state Agency for Health Care Administration too, and has worked for state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
With the medical issues of transgender care and abortion high on the list of hot-button topics, it only makes sense that Florida’s premier organization for physicians be led by a skilled political operative. Chris Clark fits that bill. Before joining the Florida Medical Association as chief lobbyist in 2014 – and then getting promoted to CEO this year – Clark served as an adviser for then-Senate President Don Gaetz and then-Gov. Jeb Bush. He also was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2018 to direct recruiting for his transition team.
The public face of Florida’s pharmacy industry, Michael Jackson aims to get his membership’s prescriptions filled in Tallahassee. Jackson, who leads his professional association’s powerful advocacy program, has celebrated recent wins – including Gov. Ron DeSantis’ drug price transparency bill and a law putting insurance regulators in charge of pharmacy benefit managers. Jackson also draws attention to critical pharmacy issues, including shortages of emergency contraception after the Roe v. Wade reversal and the end of federal COVID-19 vaccine subsidies for the uninsured.
While Simone Marstiller runs the Agency for Health Care Administration, she can’t do it all by herself – and Tom Wallace, Kim Smoak and Jason Weida play critical roles in overseeing many of AHCA’s essential functions. Wallace, a state government veteran who was named deputy secretary for Medicaid and the state’s Medicaid director last year, oversees the $36 billion state-federal program serving thousands of low-income Floridians. Smoak, who has been with the agency since 1995, serves as the deputy secretary for the Division of Health Quality Assurance, which licenses and regulates a wide range of health care providers, including hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies. In September, Jason Weida came on as AHCA’s chief of staff, succeeding Cody Farrill, who took a new role as the governor’s deputy legislative affairs director and director for intergovernmental affairs. Weida previously was an assistant deputy secretary for Medicaid policy and quality at AHCA and worked in the U.S. Department of Justice before that.
Attorney Christa Calamas ensures the legislative process runs smoothly at the House Health and Human Services Committee, where she has served as staff director for a decade, and before that as health policy chief. Calamas previously guided the state’s Medicaid overhaul as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration and, prior to that, as assistant general counsel for then-Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis reappointed Calamas to the First District Court of Appeal judicial nominating commission.
The Sunshine State’s safety net for children is in the hands of Ryan West, who directs Florida Healthy Kids, the state-subsidized health insurance program for lower-income children. West is a longtime ally of Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis – having previously served as his chief of staff and, when Patronis served on the Florida Public Service Commission, as the commission’s chief adviser. West began his political career at the state's Chamber of Commerce, and has worked as a legislative analyst at the Florida House of Representatives.
Devoted to Mayo’s mission for more than two decades, Kent Thielen can take pride in knowing his Jacksonville site is once again ranked No. 1 in the state by U.S. News & World Report. He’s also embarked on plans to add space for 121 new hospital beds and an integrated oncology structure. Under Thielen’s leadership, Mayo quickly ramped up COVID-19 testing, giving area doctors a faster, yet reliable, way to secure results. He’s also pushed successfully for legislation to let hospitals deliver inpatient-level care at home and secured significant biomedical research funding.
HCA Healthcare, one of the largest health care providers in the nation, has long been a key player in Florida, where it overhauled its operations last year. The for-profit company united its 570 locations – including hospitals, physician practices and emergency rooms – in the state as a unified statewide network emphasizing its many options and adaptability for the 7.4 million patients it serves annually. The key players leading the in-state transformation, overseeing ongoing expansions and adapting to unexpected challenges in the state are Dr. Ravi Chari, Charles Gressle II and Richard Hammett. Chari heads up its West Florida Division, which includes 15 hospitals, 14 ambulatory surgery centers and 14 emergency rooms. Gressle since 2019 has run the 14-hospital East Florida Division, which opened the state-of-the-art HCA Florida University Hospital late last year. Richard Hammett has led the 15-hospital North Florida Division since 2020, taking over early on in the coronavirus pandemic. The company also pivoted rapidly to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and has treated over 53,000 coronavirus inpatients.
At Memorial Healthcare System, Scott Wester arrived as the new CEO this summer – and hopes to replicate his success in Baton Rouge, where he headed our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Over 14 years there, Wester tripled revenue to $1.6 billion; hired 400 doctors; and spearheaded a $55 million capital campaign to build a new children's hospital. In Hollywood, the veteran administrator now leads one of the nation's largest public health systems, with hospitals and outpatient facilities throughout South Florida.
Tommy Inzina retires this December after a quarter century at BayCare, which he built into one of West-Central Florida’s largest private companies, with annual revenue of $4.2 billion, 15 hospitals and nearly 30,000 employees. A health care accounting specialist, Inzina has been with BayCare since its 1997 opening, serving as the system’s first chief financial officer and later as chief operating officer. He consolidated departments, streamlined billing and finances, secured an upgraded credit rating and top rankings – and most recently steered the system through COVID-19 and Hurricane Ian.
Shevaun Harris took the wheel at the Department of Children and Families in 2021 after a 15-year stint with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. While she cut her teeth with ACHA, she climbed to the rank of acting secretary and oversaw the administering of the state’s Medicaid program. Harris, whose current agency deals with everything from mental health to serving individuals with disabilities, is also a key player in efforts to combat the abuse of drugs such as fentanyl and other opioids.
David Diamond, a radiation oncologist and University of Florida medical school graduate, works at South Florida’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. What’s garnered more attention is his role as chair of the Florida Board of Medicine, which licenses and disciplines medical doctors in the state. These boards aren’t normally in the news, but his is now considering rules that could restrict or ban treatment for transgender minors such as puberty blockers, as recommended by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo. That consideration was delayed, however, because of Hurricane Ian.
Tapped as a member of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force, the leader of Orlando Health tackled the coronavirus challenge with common-sense leadership, navigating the system’s 22,000-plus employees across 450 locations to focus on medical solutions rooted in objectivity instead of panic. Along the way, he emphasized employee self-care and announced new facilities in neurosciences and orthopedics. The continued focus on excellence has yielded national recognition for the Orlando Regional Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center.
In the five years since Florida legalized medical marijuana, Kim Rivers grew startup Trulieve into a $3.4 billion company with 9,000 employees in 11 states. She is just getting started, recently infusing $10 million from Trulieve into efforts to legalize the state’s recreational marijuana use in 2024 – despite the governor’s vocal objections to its odor. Rivers, whose operation was relatively unscathed by Hurricane Ian, has also continued to expand, making a number of acquisitions last year.
With mental health and drug abuse in the spotlight, Melanie Brown-Woofter has a high-profile role representing Florida’s community mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, along with their 250,000 statewide patients. Brown-Woofter has lately advocated to expand community behavioral health clinics as a way to meet rising need closer to home. She was recently appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Re-Open Florida task force and the statewide task force on opioid abuse.
As rates of youth mental illness have soared, NAMI's Florida affiliate and its 24 statewide chapters have responded, led by Jarrod Strickland and Ashley Grimes. The organization has stepped up services, including a peer-run hotline where calls skyrocketed along with anxiety in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Strickland, a former U.S. Army sergeant who has worked for the Wounded Warrior Project, and Grimes, a state organizer for the Florida Recovery Advocacy Project, have also spearheaded greater outreach to youth and marginalized populations and lead a robust advocacy program, championing legislation like the bipartisan 988 Implementation Act, which funds mental health crisis intervention.
As Florida’s retirement lifestyle has evolved, Steve Bahmer has modernized the mission of LeadingAge Florida, the senior living advocacy association he has headed since 2015. Bahmer leads a nonprofit that advocates for 250 member communities spanning the full spectrum of senior care for 80,000 Floridians statewide. A Wyoming transplant, Bahmer previously headed a Cheyenne-based association management and public affairs consultancy – an experience he brought to LeadingAge Florida’s energetic political program.
Ron LaFace Jr. is accustomed to winning. The attorney-cum-lobbyist recently scored a merger of Prodigy Public Affairs of Miami into Capital City Consulting, the powerhouse government Affairs firm LaFace co-founded – and which earned an estimated $17 million last year, the third-highest lobbying total statewide, from clients such as CVS Health, Aetna and 3M. LaFace, whose father was also a lobbying legend, was named 2017 Healthcare Lobbyist of the Year by Influence Magazine – which has also lauded Capital City as its Best Lobbying Firm.
Greenberg Traurig has continued to expand all across the country and internationally over the years, but not at the expense of its work in Florida, where the law firm got its start over 50 years ago. It has a notable level of expertise in health care policy work, led by an impressive team with experience in and out of government. David Ashburn, who runs the firm’s office in the state capital, handles regulatory matters for hospitals, surgery centers and nursing homes, among other clients. Hayden Dempsey, who held key roles in the Chiles, Martinez, Bush and Scott administrations, is a go-to expert on Medicaid and health care regulatory issues, including matters before the Florida Legislature and the Office of Insurance Regulation. Liz Dudek, who oversaw the state’s Medicaid program as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, is now director of health care affairs at the firm. Michael Cherniga deals with a wide range of health care policy and regulatory matters at the local, state and federal level.
After Jon Johnson’s over two decades representing various industries and Travis Blanton’s background as a former chief of staff for the Agency for Health Care Administration, these two lobbyists have one of the biggest health care industry client sheets in the state, representing dozens of hospitals, insurance companies and trade associations. The client list includes big state and national groups and companies, including Pfizer, Advent Health and the Florida Hospital Association, with some of their health care clients paying up to $140,000 a year for their services.
Whether it’s sharing the elderly’s voting concerns or their vulnerabilities, advocate Jeff Johnson is the voice for the 1 in 5 Florida residents who are 65 years or older. His efforts did not stop lawmakers this year from reducing the required number of care hours per nursing home resident. But more recently, Jeff Johnson has solicited assistance for the countless retirees affected by Hurricane Ian, noting that it’s a challenging recovery for those lacking electricity, mobility and good health. A recent poll shows most AARP members support incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, but also have a strong interest in inflation and abortion issues as well.
Since insurance is regulated at the state level, officials like John Reilly play an essential role in a complex industry that has seen profits rise and that directly shapes access to care for millions of Floridians. Reilly in November 2020 was appointed deputy commissioner overseeing the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s life and health insurance. The work is focused on three main tasks: assessing the financial condition of insurers, reviewing and ensuring compliance for insurance policy forms and rates, and carrying out examinations and investigations when potential violations are flagged.
Nobody was surprised to see William Rubin co-chair Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inaugural committee. Rubin founded his government relations firm 30 years ago and built it into one of Florida's most powerful, with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Having advised the last several successful gubernatorial campaigns, Rubin and his team are the advocates of choice for a range of corporate clients – including highly regulated industries such as health care and medical marijuana.
Putting patients first seems to be the mantra of this medical executive, who oversees operations in five counties in Southeast Florida. An Ohio transplant, Dr. Conor Delaney has said connecting with people was a big part of why he got into medicine in the first place. Keeping that primary goal in mind while providing patients a collection of medical specialists trained in best care is paying off in national recognition: Weston Hospital is once again the No. 1 hospital in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region, according to U.S. News & World Report.
As its parent company, UnitedHealth Group, collaborates on Florida’s inaugural Walmart Health locations, UnitedHealthcare of Florida’s CEO Nick Zaffiris is focused on expanding its individual insurance footprint. This year, Zaffiris oversaw the company’s introduction of plans in the nation’s hottest Affordable Care Act market, with nearly 3 million users and counting. Zaffiris is a U.S. Navy veteran who previously headed UnitedHealthcare’s South Florida, Georgia and Alabama divisions before taking the helm in Florida, where the company has nearly 2 million members.
A longtime Orlando resident, Terry Shaw is not new to the magic of Mickey Mouse. Recently the expansive faith-based medical system he now leads partnered with Walt Disney World Resort to meet the health-care needs of patrons vacationing at its theme and adventure parks. Plans include dedicated staff, more telemedicine offerings and a new emergency center near Disney. It’s this kind of proactive thinking Shaw often receives praise for, such as his system’s quick response to stock up on ventilators and stronger safety wear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tina Vidal-Duart oversaw the state’s COVID-19 Infectious Disease Field Hospital System during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but that's not all Tina Vidal-Duart did to help Floridians fight COVID-19. With her company, she helped provide COVID-19 test kits, lab services, medical supplies and PPE to local and state governments since the pandemic began, as well as over 150,000 monoclonal antibody treatments. Her work earned her the praise of Democrats and Republicans across the state.
Nathan Landsbaum heads Florida’s largest Medicaid managed care organization – Sunshine Health, a Centene subsidiary. His fall 2021 appointment came shortly before Sunshine absorbed Staywell Health Plan, becoming responsible for 2.3 million statewide members of Medicaid, Marketplace, Medicare, and Children's Medical Services plans. Landsbaum is a 17-year Centene veteran who most recently led the Missouri market as CEO for Home State Health, having served previously as Sunshine’s vice president of finance and then as its chief operating officer.
Few Floridians are as fluent in Medicaid as Holly Prince. A certified public accountant and onetime Peace Corps volunteer, Prince has held a variety of leadership positions at Anthem. She currently oversees its Medicaid offerings through Simply Healthcare Plans, for which Prince served as chief financial officer before the company was absorbed into Anthem. Previously, as CFO of Atlantic Dental, a Medicaid dental managed care outfit, Prince steered its acquisition by DentaQuest, the Boston dental benefits company she then guided financially as controller.
As head of Florida dentists’ professional association, Drew Eason spearheads initiatives to address issues ranging from mask mandates and the dental workforce shortage to dental practices impacted by Hurricane Ian. Eason heads one of the American Dental Association’s largest affiliates, an 8,100-strong membership whose interests are represented in Tallahassee by Association lobbyist-in-chief Joe Anne Hart. Hart and Eason recently scored wins with the Legislature’s funding of a much-anticipated dental loan repayment program, as well as the lucrative integration of dental services into state Medicaid managed care.
The first woman dean of Florida’s medical school that has been touted No. 1 in research and primary care for the past decade, Dr. Colleen Koch spent her first year on the job developing a new vision for this giant network of 28 research and clinical departments and a physician assistant school. She traded the typical top-down approach for a mammoth participatory process. And as teaching hospitals nationwide adapted to the new COVID-19 normal, Koch reminded all that as trying as pandemics can be, they also unleash human ingenuity and innovation.
Joseph J. Echevarria helms a health system with one of the best hospitals in the state that is a critical partner to one of its best medical schools. University of Miami Hospital and Clinics-UHealth Tower are the second-highest ranked hospital in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and the eighth highest in the state, according to the U.S. News and World Report. It also ranks in the top 50 for cancer treatment in the country. Echevarria also serves on the Board of Directors for Pfizer.
Academic institutions are hotbeds for medical research and innovation, and the University of Miami houses one of the best medical research programs in the country. Henri R. Ford heads the university’s Miller School of Medicine, which ranks second in the state and 43rd in the nation for research. His leadership has helped the program bring in the most grant money from the National Institute of Health than any institution in the state, as well as being ranked the sixth most diverse medical schools in the nation.
Accountant, attorney and councilman for the Village of Bal Harbour, Jeffrey Freimark brings myriad perspectives to Miami Jewish Health, which he has led since 2008. Freimark oversees a nonprofit that provides health, social and even Shabbat services to 10,000 seniors annually, from independent and assisted residences to in-home government-funded care through the Florida PACE program. To meet rising demand, Freimark is leading MJH’s construction of a new, $58 million Pembroke Pines residence for low-income seniors.
Dr. Patrick Hwu, an immunologist known for groundbreaking work on T-cell therapies, heads the Moffitt Cancer Center – Florida’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive facility. Hwu came to Tampa from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he served most recently as chief of cancer medicine. The center is planning to move ahead with a new biotech campus even after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed funding in the state budget this year. Hwu has also emphasized diversity and inclusion, earning recognition from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Forbes' list of top Florida employers.
This chairman of a private firm makes his living building wealth through investments in health care companies that are then acquired by publicly traded companies, such as Humana, CVS and Vitamin Shoppe, to name just a few. But the Cuban-born Mike Fernandez is probably known more these days for his public embrace of immigration reform, a stance in opposition with Gov. Ron DeSantis. A former Republican donor who gave millions to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign, Fernandez turned his back on the party after it embraced former President Donald Trump. He advocates opening up primaries in Florida to all voters regardless of party.
Gino Santorio took over leadership of South Florida's largest private, nonprofit teaching hospital in February 2021, ushering the 70-year-old institution through successive pandemic waves and spearheading the construction of a state-of-the-art cancer center, set to début in 2025. Under Santorio's guidance, the Columbia University-affiliated Mount Sinai retained multiple top rankings from Healthgrades in 2022, along with status as a regional leader in cardiac surgery and stroke care. Santorio previously headed Broward Health and was an executive at Jackson Health System.
Natalie Kelly draws on 35 years of experience in state and federal government to call attention to the critical importance of behavioral health. As head of the Florida Association of Managing Entities, Kelly represents nonprofit organizations that collectively manage $800 million of government funds directed to the state’s 300-plus behavioral health care providers. Kelly, who previously ran her own public affairs consulting firm and worked at the National Alzheimer’s Association and in the Florida Senate, has boosted funding for the organizations she represents while expanding the reach of their services.
One of the most dogged health care reporters in Florida, Christine Sexton Jordan knows the ins and outs of complicated topics such as Medicaid, health insurance and medical marijuana as well as the politics that drive debates over health care policy. Lately, the Tallahassee-based reporter has been driving coverage of such hot-button issues as transgender care, COVID-19 vaccination and abortion, while her Diagnosis roundup includes the biggest news and moves of the week.
Billionaire entrepreneur Reinhold Schmieding heads Arthrex, the Naples-based orthopedic device company he founded in 1981. Schmieding, the son of German immigrants, built the business from his Munich living room into a multinational powerhouse with revenues estimated at $3.1 billion and distribution in nearly 100 countries. The famously private mogul reportedly owns 90% of his company, which is behind more than 13,000 medical devices and related products and leads development in the areas of orthobiologics and arthroplasty.
Since taking over the helm as dean in 2014, Dr. Charles Lockwood has been steering his public medical school at full propulsion, evidenced by the school’s consistent climb in national rankings, up 34 spots to No. 46 on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list. The ranking signifies ongoing improvements in education, research and patient care, and Lockwood has said these wins draw stellar students and faculty, which fuel better metrics, thus better rankings. Lockwood has also been lauded as a student advocate and community partner.
During his three years at the helm of University of Florida Health, Dr. David Nelson has managed a mammoth operation that includes six separate health colleges, nine research centers and three hospital systems. UF Health consistently earns top rankings for its hospitals and specialties. But lately Nelson has found UF medical advances competing for attention with his high-profile faculty hire, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the governor’s controversial choice for surgeon general.
This fall, CEO Jennifer Sweet announced that her quarter-million Aetna Better Health of Florida members will now have access to in-home primary care from Emcara. This latest collaboration is familiar territory for Sweet, who prior to assuming leadership at ABHF – part of CVS Health – was a senior vice president at PopHealthcare, Emcara’s parent company. Sweet has particular experience in Medicaid managed care, for which Aetna Better Health handles Florida contracts for CHIP and long-term care services. The company has also called for more suicide prevention efforts.
As Affordable Care Act signups have soared in recent years, Richard Weiss has positioned Aetna to take advantage of explosive growth in Florida, which has by far the country's highest marketplace enrollment. Weiss, Aetna's Florida market president since 2018 and its former state director, spearheaded the company's reentry into the 2.7 million-strong individual insurance market last year. He launched the first Aetna CVS Health hybrid-branded insurance plans, which combine traditional coverage with pharmacy and MinuteClinic services.
Dr. Gerald Glass has devoted his career to slicing through red tape. The physician and onetime Marine co-founded Automated HealthCare Solutions, a Sunrise-based company producing software that allows doctors to dispense point of care medication, clinics to verify health insurance and patients to look up procedure costs or apply for health care financing. Twenty-five years after Glass launched the business, his vision for streamlining health costs and services through technology looks prescient indeed.
Based in Tampa, the regional vice president for Humana’s Southeast Region is involved in providing its members new and improved products and services through increased collaboration with brokers. However, Al Hernandez may be better known for his recent bid for the District 1 seat on Pasco County’s school board. Hernandez advanced to face teacher James Washington in November’s general election and was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but he was removed from the ballot due to a residency issue – although he said he would appeal the ruling.
More than a half-million Floridians access health and long term care through Humana Florida’s Medicaid managed care plan, overseen by Jocelyn Chisholm Carter. Carter assumed her post in early 2021, and a few months later, she was toasting Humana’s collaboration with the rapidly expanding Cano Health, which acquired several Florida properties to become among the state’s largest independent Medicaid primary care providers. Carter, an attorney by training, served as a senior counsel to UnitedHealth Group before heading its state Medicaid plans in New Jersey and Mississippi, achieving top plan ratings.
The third-highest paid South Florida CEO with $31.6 million in compensation in 2021, Marlow Hernandez runs a growing company that had some of the best outcomes in the state among their elderly patients who contracted COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. Cano Health was able to reduce the mortality rate of seniors in their population health management program by 60% compared to a similar group of Florida patients. He credits those results by the company providing telehealth, home services and quickly admitting patients once they were diagnosed to give them the treatment they needed.
Already known for his timely COVID-19 pandemic updates, the chief for the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System recently drew attention to the heroism of the medical personnel on the front lines of Hurricane Ian devastation who postponed their own storm cleanup to serve hardest hit Lee and Charlotte counties. David Verinder, whose southwest Florida system has more than a million patient visits per year, also saw his new hospital in Venice successfully weather the storm and experience another surge of patients in the wake of the hurricane.
The leader of one of the largest private employers in the state capital, Mark O’Bryant has spent his nearly two decades at the helm of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare reinforcing its focus on patient and family-centered care. That goal resulted in a new $270 million, six-story surgical center that combines the best in technology with a welcoming atmosphere filled with natural light. His latest economic boost is a partnership with Florida State University to build a $125 million FSU Health building on the TMH campus, which should result in more research dollars and jobs for the region.
Few Floridians know health insurance like Audrey Brown – and that’s no small thing in a state that earns $705 million in tax revenue from the health plan industry. Brown heads the statewide trade association representing Medicaid, Medicare Advantage and commercial health insurers, advocating for policies that favor both health outcomes and cost efficiencies for 21 million covered Floridians. She previously held several roles in the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, most recently as chief of staff to the state's insurance commissioner.
For 20 years, Jodi Ray has helped Floridians navigate a complex insurance landscape. As head of the University of South Florida's family health coverage initiative, Ray collaborates with government agencies, schools and community groups to help residents enroll and maintain their participation in government-sponsored programs, including Medicaid and CHIP. With 2.5 Floridians still uninsured – more than 10% of them children – Ray continues her efforts, securing, thus far, more than $20 million in government outreach funding.
Serving as Molina’s regional and state president, Mike Jones is responsible for more than 200,000 customers totaling more than $920 million in revenue in the Sunshine State. It’s a second career for Mike Jones, who spent two decades serving as a financial officer in the U.S. Air Force. He then progressed through management roles at several health-related companies before landing his current role in 2016 at this growing Fortune 500 company. Among its latest patient-friendly moves is easing rules for prior authorization and covering medical services regardless of network for members residing in storm-ravaged southwest Florida.
When Hurricane Ian devastated many the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association’s member hospitals and health providers, Jaime Caldwell drew on 30 years of health and crisis management experience to coordinate an effective response. Caldwell began his career overseeing emergency medical services and disaster response for the Florida Department of Health, and later headed operations for emergency services and ambulance companies. He has led the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association as president since 2016, having previously guided the trade group’s policy analysis.
Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell to find answers to a pressing question: Do Florida's current strategies sufficiently address rising rates of anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse – and if not, what should change? Prummell, who heads the governor's new commission on mental health and substance abuse, is a three-decade law enforcement veteran and former Drug Free Charlotte County chair. Under his leadership, the commission has consulted forensics, housing and community medicine experts in a quest for fresh perspectives.
An ardent advocate for her profession, the longtime leader has found her niche keeping nurses involved in medical industry conversations. Willa Fuller is not surprised the combination of lagging salaries and lack of sufficient safety measures during the COVID-19 crisis resulted in an exodus from the frontlines of patient care. And although Fuller welcomes the governor-supported $125 million state infusion into nursing education, she says the remedy will rely on a strong dose of employer innovation along with that promise of more trained personnel.
Last year, Beth Kidder wrapped up a tenure of two decades at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration and transitioned to a new phase of her career in the private sector. Now as the Tallahassee-based managing principal at the national research and consulting firm Health Management Associations, Kidder is capitalizing on her extensive government experience, including having served as the state’s Medicaid director during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before joining the team at the Tallahassee-based lobbying and consulting firm Floridian Partners this year, this state government official-turned-lobbyist marked key legislative wins for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents hundreds of the state’s nursing homes and assisted living sites. Toby Philpot helped engineer a nearly 8% increase in Medicaid funding for nursing care and new legislation aimed at updating – or as some argue, softening – staffing standards, even reportedly providing draft bill language. In doing so, he likely leaned on lessons learned as chief of staff at the Agency for Health Care Administration.
From Florida Super Lawyer to the Best Lawyers in America and a host of others in between, health law specialist Maria Currier racks up the accolades. A partner in Holland & Knight's business law section, Currier has expertly counseled public health entities, hospitals and health systems; masterminded medical acquisitions; and steered clients through complex fraud and compliance cases. Currier, who is bilingual in Spanish, has particular expertise in Latin American markets and advises U.S. clients on cross-border health industry matters.
From a new eight-story pavilion to the expansion of the Hollis Cancer Center, Danielle Drummond has made her mark through a series of major capital projects at Lakeland Regional Health, where she has held a series of leadership positions since 2013. With her guidance, Lakeland also increased recruitment and reduced readmission rates while maintaining strong operating margins – despite a decline in state Medicaid and increased patient volumes. In 2018, Drummond was named one of the nation’s Top 25 chief operating officers in health care by Modern Healthcare.
A student favorite who donned costumes for medical residency match days, the longtime dean of Florida State University’s young medical college was set to retire this past summer. A West Point graduate and family physician, Dr. John Fogarty was drawn to FSU’s mission to produce primary care physicians. His biggest accomplishments dealt with college expansion, including a new physician assistants school, nine new residency programs, more than $140 million in research funding and a clinic for an underserved Tallahassee community. He leaves as FSU partners with Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare to build a new academic center at TMH.
The 309-bed Nicklaus Children's Hospital already offered telehealth when COVID-19 struck – but as virtual appointments soared 9,000% in 2020, CEO Matthew Love was ready, spearheading an upgraded platform that now has global reach. Love arrived in Miami in 2018, bringing 20 years of hospital administration expertise to the Southeast’s largest pediatric teaching hospital system and its network of outpatient clinics. COVID-19 notwithstanding, Love has improved Nicklaus’ bond ratings while maintaining top rankings in numerous specialties and launching community initiatives like the ENRICH literacy program.
After years orchestrating strategic expansions of pediatrics and primary care, Cary D’Ortona saw his efforts pay off at Orlando Health when its two children’s hospitals shared the top Florida ranking in that category for 2022-2023 by U.S. News & World Report. D’Ortona, a senior vice president at the $8 billion not-for-profit health system, has previously served as chief operating officer and as chief financial officer for the Arnold Palmer Hospital, overseeing a $500 million budget. He also teaches at University of Central Florida’s college of business.
Expanding telehealth, promoting flu vaccines and explaining safe generator usage after Hurricane Ian: It's all on the menu for Lawrence Antonucci, the obstetrician-gynecologist who has helmed the nonprofit public health system since 2017. Antonucci, known for his hands-on style, masterminded the system's award-winning patient safety program and shored up its finances before confronting what may be his biggest challenge yet – the devastation of Ian, which tore directly through Lee Health's metro Fort Myers service area, forcing Antonucci to evacuate patients and lead under crisis conditions.
As Volusia County’s population swells parallel to that of Florida – between 1-2% annually – Jeff Feasal is growing Halifax Health to meet rising need. The longtime CEO has guided the 94-year-old hospital system through two decades of expansion, including several new hospitals and the rollout of Halifax’s ExpressCare clinics. Feasel has also orchestrated partnerships with regional institutions like UF Health, which partnered with Halifax Health to open its first Daytona Beach pain management center this fall.
Marathoner Venise White is in it for the long haul – Florida public health, that is. White, who literally walks the walk on health advice, has spent 25 years crusading against racial health disparities and promoting grassroots health awareness, most recently as head of the Florida Public Health Association. White is also the statewide training administrator for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Florida Department of Health, where she coordinates workshops on culturally competent care and community health equity.
Nurse anesthetists in Florida kept up their push this year to be allowed to practice without the direct supervision of a doctor, a move that would align with broader responsibilities for these specialists that are allowed in many other states. As the current president of the Florida Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, Dr. Michelle Canale is pushing for that change, while also touting how certified registered nurse anesthetists bolstered depleted nursing ranks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canale is also director of the nurse anesthesiology programs at the USF Health College of Nursing.
Don King arrived in Jacksonville this year to lead the Florida and Gulf Coast market for Ascension, the 19-state Catholic health system where King is a senior vice president. He most recently led Ascension's Kansas market through the COVID-19 pandemic and managed its partnership with the Vituity multispecialty health outfit, earning recognition as one of Wichita Business Journal’s 2021 Executives of the Year. A physical therapist by training, King previously spearheaded community and behavioral health initiatives as chief operating officer for Ascension Alabama.
South Florida’s glittery growth belies its share of health challenges – and at the Health Foundation, Loreen Chant leads efforts to meet them. Chant oversees $4 million in annual grants promoting health equity and access – including, recently, $1 million to address the health workforce shortage. She previously set a fundraising record as the head of Easterseals South Florida, and in 2020, Chant collaborated on safe reopening protocols as a member of the Miami-Dade County Mayor’s New Normal Taskforce for Childcare Centers and Summer Camps.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed litigator Dan Russell last year to lead Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission – a nine-member panel that nominates judges – it was a reminder of the clout Russell wields in Tallahassee and beyond. Russell is among the state’s top legal experts on regulated industries, notably gambling and cannabis. He serves on the state’s medical marijuana advisory committee and is a former general counsel to the Florida Lottery, Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino and Surterra, the state’s first medical marijuana cultivator.
Dr. Wilhelmina Lewis treats patients like her younger self, a poor child without health insurance, and her mother, who lacked preventive care and died of a cancer diagnosed too late. Lewis heads a network of 15 sliding-fee, comprehensive clinics across Eastern Florida that aim to ensure access for every area resident. Under her tenure – now as CEO, and previously as chief medical officer – the community health centers offer primary, pediatric, women’s and dental care, telehealth, lab and diagnostic testing, and even pharmacy services.
Lou Galdieri oversees Pinellas County's first hospital – Morton Plant Hospital, built in 1916 and now provider to 50,000 patients annually as an affiliate of the BayCare health system. Under Galdieri's leadership, Morton Plant unveiled Doyle Tower, a major capital project, and was recognized last year as one of America's top 100 hospitals by IBM Watson Health. Galdieri, a nurse by training, is continuing as a BayCare regional executive while handing over the reins of the highly rated Morton Plant Hospital to Matt Novak, who leads the system’s Mease Countryside and Mease Dunedin Hospitals.
After a series of policy roles in then-Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, Heather Stearns brought her public affairs know-how to Liberty Dental Plan of Florida, where she oversaw government relations before taking on the role of president in 2019. Stearns manages the Florida market for a benefits outfit with 5 million members nationwide and participation in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP. An attorney by training, Stearns was recently reappointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court judicial nominating commission.
A longtime leader in hospice care in Florida, Dr. Samira Beckwith has spent over three decades at the helm of Fort Myers-based Hope Healthcare. The nonprofit organization provides hospice care and other services to over 3,000 individuals a day. She has represented her sector at the White House, in Congress and on the boards of such organizations as the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the National Hospice Foundation, the Florida PACE Association and the National Hospice Work Group. Last year, she was named chair of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation.
A conservative advocate like John Stemberger isn’t typically considered to be a key player in the health care sector, but he has been at the forefront of efforts to restrict access to abortion in Florida – and while Stemberger is driven by moral principles, the efforts have significant ramifications for the medical field, regardless of where one sits on the ideological spectrum. The U.S. Supreme Court’s bombshell decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the possibility of tightening Florida’s 15-week ban, has only heightened the stakes of the abortion debate in the state.
Florida is in a unique position in terms of abortion access. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis restricted abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy earlier this year, but since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the state is poised to be a destination for women from neighboring states with even stricter limits. That means Planned Parenthood’s Alexandra Mandado, who took the helm of the system’s south, east and north Florida regions last year, and Stephanie Fraim, who has led the system’s southwest and central regions since 2018, will be adjusting to increased demand.
Keith A. Myers has spent the past decade and a half transforming MorseLife Health System from a long-term skilling nursing facility into a diversified provider of a range of senior health care services, including assisted living, memory care, short-term rehabilitation, cannabis-based therapies and home care programs. Myers, who previously ran health care systems in Virginia and Ohio, has also advised state government on Medicaid payments and has served on the boards of several medical organizations and associations in Florida.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2,600-member Florida chapter has an uncontroversial mission – promoting the health and welfare of Florida’s children and supporting the pediatricians who care for them – but that doesn’t mean the organization avoids tackling controversial topics. Its new president, Dr. Thresia Gambon of Citrus Health Network, weighed in on a recent debate over the need to record the menstrual history of high school athletes. Gambon’s predecessor, Dr. Lisa Gwynn, criticized the DeSantis administration for limiting access to COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 5 – and was booted from state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ Florida Healthy Kids Board as a result.
A familiar figure before Florida's Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal, James McKee is a legal specialist for Florida's fast-evolving medical marijuana industry. McKee, a former deputy counsel to the Florida governor, shepherded some of the state's first cannabis treatment centers through the litigation, regulatory and licensure processes. As an attorney in the Tallahassee office of the national law firm Foley & Lardner for a decade and a half, he focuses on complex commercial litigation and has racked up numerous successes in cases, including high-profile Medicaid disputes.
What do beer, marijuana, casinos and health care policy have in common? They're all specialties of attorney John Lockwood and the eponymous Tallahassee firm he founded. Clients turn to Lockwood for legal and policy strategies grounded in regulatory expertise in Florida’s alcoholic beverage, gaming medical cannabis industries. Having served at the Florida attorney general’s office and as a judicial law clerk at the First District Court of Appeal, Lockwood is known for his facility advocating in front of key state agencies.
Defending society's least vulnerable defines the career of attorney Alison Yager, who heads the Florida Health Justice Project. Yager, who first joined the nonprofit as a policy director in 2018, currently guides initiatives around abortion rights, defending nursing home residents from evictions, and advocating for transgender Medicaid beneficiaries. Yager came to Miami from New York, where she worked on paid family leave as director of policy initiatives, maternal, infant and reproductive health at the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene.
The beautiful people turn to plastic surgeons – and the plastic surgeons turn to Chris Nuland, who for 25 years has served as general counsel and lobbyist for the aesthetic doctors’ statewide professional society. Nuland’s practice focuses on medical law, helping physicians and medical groups navigate compliance and advocate for reform in an increasingly complex regulatory landscape. Nuland’s experience includes having served as counsel for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, for the Florida Medical Association and for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.
From hospital hurricane preparation to IT trends, nursing profiles to telemedicine, there's nary a health care trend that Charles Felix doesn't cover. Felix publishes a Boca Raton-based monthly report that updates more than 50,000 healthcare professionals throughout six counties about the fast-evolving South Florida health care scene (including marijuana, as Felix also publishes the online Cannabis News Florida). A certified public accountant by training, Felix is a board member of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association and a former president of the Atlanta Knights hockey team.
The Tampa-based health care executive Jigar Desai has a wealth of experience in the sector, most recently taking on the role of executive chair of Medical Card System Puerto Rico at the start of the year. He’s also the executive chair of GlobalHealth Inc., which like MCS Puerto Rico was acquired by Kinderhook Industries’ health care investment company MHH Healthcare LLC. Desai previously spent over a decade in leadership roles at Freedom Health and Optimum Healthcare, two Medicare Advantage plans that were acquired by Anthem in 2018.
The former mayor of Broward County ultimately lost her challenge against state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book in a spirited Democratic primary battle, but the homecare company she founded over two decades ago is still thriving. South Florida Pediatric Homecare employs over 600 people in South Florida and seeks to enable chronically ill people to recover at home instead of in a hospital. She received a $7.1 million salary in 2021.
Last year, as nurse shortages grew amid pandemic outbreaks and worker burnout, Rayna Letourneau took over leadership of the state workforce center that collaborates with the Florida Nurses Association to regulate industry nursing needs. Under Letourneau's leadership, the Florida Center for Nursing partners with the University of South Florida to quantify nursing shortages – more than 25% in the state's nursing homes – and identify remedies. Letourneau, an assistant professor at the USF Health College of Nursing, has published research on nurse competency and safety education.
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