Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duval Health Interim Chief No Stranger to Duval; Bonnie Sorensen Has Served as TB Incident Commander in Jacksonville

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duval Health Interim Chief No Stranger to Duval; Bonnie Sorensen Has Served as TB Incident Commander in Jacksonville

Article excerpt

Byline: Tracy Jones

Bonnie Sorensen has a reputation as a problem solver. She worked with Gov. Jeb Bush to monitor county health departments to improve operations. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hired her to create a restructured health department for California.

Now Sorensen, 64, is the interim director of the Duval County Health Department, tasked with containing a tuberculosis outbreak that led to the departure of the predecessor she hired.

As of Oct. 19, the county had tested about 1,400 people on its priority list of 2,100 compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found about 400 positive results. Many of those are on medication to prevent it from turning into an active case of the disease.

Sorensen was appointed by John Armstrong, the state's surgeon general, on Sept. 27 after Robert Harmon retired with a day's notice amid criticism and statewide headlines over keeping the TB outbreak from the public. Harmon was hired in 2006 by Sorensen when she worked for the state Health Department.

Armstrong said the state launched a national search for a permanent replacement with Sorensen saying she promised to stay until Jan. 1.

"Her efforts continue to inspire all those around her, and she is truly an asset for public health," said Armstrong, who brought her in because of her experience and time in Jacksonville as tuberculosis incident commander.

Sorensen's career in public health began in 1990 as a doctor in a Volusia County clinic. She would become director of the entire department by 1996.

There, she said she faced several challenges that prepared her for what's happening in Jacksonville. At the beginning of her tenure in Volusia she received a 30-day notice to lay off employees and restructure the department after the Agency for Health Care Administration said the county could no longer operate as an HMO.

"It was bad," she said. "But when you're on the bottom, there's nowhere to go but the top."

Sorensen created community partnerships between agencies, including Healthy Start of Flagler and Volusia counties.

"The one thing I've always appreciated about her is that she comes to the table without anything to prove," said Dixie Morgese, executive director of Healthy Start in those counties. "She listens and takes action based on consensus and takes full responsibility and makes sure the people sitting around her take responsibility."

In 2002, Sorensen was offered a Florida Health Department post as a deputy state health officer monitoring the operations of the 67 county departments. She was in charge of visiting the counties, analyzing policies, creating legislative proposals and many personnel decisions, such as hiring Harmon.

She said bringing in Harmon was a result of then-Gov. Jeb Bush's model of half internal hires and half from outside recruits, such as Harmon, to increase diversity. …

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