Gov. William Donald Schaefer has disbanded his advisory council on AIDS and says he will establish a new council "with a different membership and mission."
In a June 7 letter to each of the council's 22 members, Schaefer said, "Sometime soon, I expect to be appointing a new council which will focus on HIV prevention, HIV education for youth, intergovernmental collaboration and health care worker-related issues." Human immunodeficiency virus causes the fatal acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The council has been waiting for Schaefer to name a new chairman since former Sen. Daniel B. Brewster resigned from the top post in December and Robert B. Watts, vice chairman and a retired city Circuit Court judge, refused to accept the post permanently.
The council, which traditionally convened twice a month, has not met since March.
Some members said the suddenness of the news from Schaefer was somewhat of a jolt.
At least four members are concerned about what they see as a more narrowed focus for the council -- one that seems to ignore escalating patient care needs. Others are pleased because, as one says, "the council has lost momentum and perhaps grown stale."
The governor thanked members for their "commitment of time, energy and expertise," while noting that he thought it was time "to reassess the direction" of the council.
"Accordingly, I am issuing two executive orders, one to rescind the executive order establishing the Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS and a second to establish a new council, with a different membership and mission," the letter said.
Schaefer signed the letter before leaving on an overseas trade mission but it was not mailed until Monday, according to Paul Schurick, the governor's press aide.
Schurick said the governor has tapped a chairman who is "knowledgeable about AIDS and committed" to bringing about solutions to the costly, complex disease that is moving on relentlessly.
"This person has been approached, but we don't have an answer as yet," Schurick said. "We expect the reconstituted council will be in operation in a month's time."
Asked if the new council would include any of the old council members, he replied, "Yes, possibly, probably."
Reacting to Schaefer's action, state Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Balto. Co., said, "I don't understand what the governor's upset is with the council, which includes so many AIDS experts who have willingly given their time.
"I have been on a lot of advisory councils throughout my 13 years in office and, quite frankly, I think this group has been the most invaluable to any legislative or gubernatorial office," Hollinger said.
The AIDS population is growing and somebody "better be addressing" the patient-care issue, said Hollinger, a nurse.
She said she has just returned from New York, where "all you see walking up and down the streets are homeless AIDS patients holding up signs that say: 'I'm ill with AIDS and have no money. Help!' "
Patient care is a "tremendous concern," and yet it does not appear as a priority on the new council's agenda, she said.
Dr. Jack Zimmerman, who is also on the panel, agreed with Hollinger that care of patients with HIV infection is an issue that is going to have to be dealt with because it is looming as a major public health problem.
"We're going to have large numbers of patients and, right at present, we don't have a very satisfactory system for providing the care that's going to be needed," Zimmerman warned.
"This is a large societal problem and needs to be addressed by the council rather than just within the government agencies."
Dr. John P. Johnson, the head of pediatric AIDS at the University of Maryland Medical Center, stressed, "We're still in a crisis of care provision now and it's an ever-growing crisis. So, we cannot forget the issues of HIV care."
Schaefer's call for a reconstituted council "coming out of the blue leaves me a bit surprised, but I do think the council needs new momentum," Johnson said. "If this is a means to put together a council with new vigor to address these problems, then I welcome it."
Johnson said he's not sure the governor really means to fire the entire council. "At least, I hope he doesn't because there clearly are some very top-notch and well-informed people on the council and it would be a shame not to keep their involvement, their historical perspective and understanding on AIDS."
Curt Decker, an outspoken lawyer who serves on the council, said Schaefer may want a new council because the old panel "made him feel uncomfortable and that is not the way you survive in the state of Maryland."
Decker said he is "very nervous" about the governor making the issues of health care workers a priority for the new council.
Watts, the council vice chairman who has been acting chairman since December, said the governor's call for a new council is "a great idea," adding, "I think you sort of get stale when you stay on these panels too long."
The council has been wedded to confidentiality for acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients, but there is a lot more demand now for testing, he said. "I think it's time to get some new thinking on this. I personally think the confidentiality argument is getting weaker and weaker."
Watts said that Brewster and he tried unsuccessfully to get more people with AIDS on the council, "but we never could get them appointed."