Beilenson is nominated to city's top health post

September 15, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke nominated Dr. Peter L. Beilenson to be city health commissioner, a move greeted enthusiastically yesterday by an AIDS advocacy group.

But Dr. Beilenson could be in for hard questioning during his confirmation hearing before the City Council. The public health physician criticized some council members last year after he lost a race for a 2nd District councilmanic seat.

"I have heard some council people say they want to know his objectives in the job. Is this a stepping-stone for political office?" said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, one of those criticized by Dr. Beilenson. "But I, myself, think that being health commissioner was more up his alley. It seems like a very logical choice."

But yesterday's nomination drew applause from AIDS activists. "[Dr. Beilenson] has an extraordinary understanding as to how the epidemic is impacting Baltimore," said Mark Shaw, a spokesman for ACT UP, an AIDS advocacy group. "The Health Department in the past two years has been a hideous failure" when it comes to dealing with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, he said.

Dr. Beilenson, 32, is director of the Bureau of School Health Services for the health department, a position that he has held for less than a year. He also works in the city's family planning and sexually transmitted disease clinics.

His nomination comes two years after the resignation of the city's last health commissioner, Dr. Maxie Collier, who had been appointed by former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns.

Since then, the department has been run by Deputy Health Commissioner Elias A. Dorsey, who is unqualified to be commissioner because he is not a physician, as required by the City Charter. Mr. Schmoke had sought a charter change to allow for Mr. Dorsey's appointment as health commissioner, but the recommendations of a city commission to revise the charter probably will not go to referendum before 1994.

Mr. Dorsey will remain in the department as deputy health commissioner. He has been harshly criticized by some advocates for people with AIDS, who said he was slow in positioning the health department for the battle against the disease.

If Mr. Beilenson's appointment is approved by the City Council, he would be taking over a massive agency hard hit by budget cuts in thepast, and likely to receive deep cuts in the near future. This year the department was budgeted at $114 million -- which is likely to be reduced once the next round of state budget cuts reaches the city.

Dr. Beilenson said he would have five major priorities as health commissioner. They are preventive health services for children, including immunizations and lead screenings; AIDS; drugs and violence; teen pregnancy, and making health services available to the poor.

He wants to establish three centers for AIDS patients, where AIDS-related health services offered by private agencies would be brought together.

Mr. Schmoke said he did not expect Dr. Beilenson's nomination to run into significant City Council opposition, despite some hard feelings toward his nominee.

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