Health chief called 'exceptional' She'll be first woman in post

July 13, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Being named the first female health officer in the county's 63-year history of providing public health care may be another important step for women, but Frances B. Phillips takes it in stride.

"I don't think being a woman will make a difference. I think it's the unique background and experiences that each person brings," the 42-year-old Annapolitan said.

Ms. Phillips, confirmed by the County Council last Tuesday after being nominated by the county executive, brings to the job a distinctive mix of clinical and administrative experience.

Born, reared and educated in Washington, D.C., Ms. Phillips graduated from Catholic University with a bachelor's degree in nursing in 1975. She was a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital and then in the emergency room at Doctors' Hospital, both in Washington.

In 1979, she received a master's degree in health care administration from George Washington University, where she worked in administrative posts for five years.

"Fran Phillips' exceptional management capabilities set her apart from the other highly qualified candidates," County Executive Robert R. Neall said. "Her direction of the county's recent health needs assessment and her familiarity with such current issues as insurance and AIDS prevention made her the overwhelming choice of the reviewing committee."

"She has a multifaceted perspective on a number of health care issues," said Janie Stanek, who will take over as chairwoman of the county's Local Health Planning Board this week. "She's well-rounded, with her nursing background and administrative posts. And she has a good ability to get things done."

As the county's top health official, Ms. Phillips will oversee a staff of about 500 and more than two dozen programs and services, from prenatal care to environmental health.

Her highest priority will be to continue battling the county's top health concerns, as described in a study conducted for the county by the Johns Hopkins University Program Alliance last year. They include lowering cancer rates, providing primary health care to county residents unable to afford it and increasing resources in mental health and addiction programs.

She also plans to continue examining the changing role of the health department, which she said is moving away from being a health care provider for low-income residents only.

The county also has been active in recent years in building more ties with private physicians, hospitals and health maintenance organizations in an effort to help provide some of the clinical services for low-income clients previously available only through the health department.

Ms. Phillips moved from Washington to Annapolis with her family in 1983 so that her husband, Washington Post sportswriter Angus Phillips, could help set up an Anne Arundel County bureau. Although she continued to commute to Washington for five years, she eventually decided to look for work closer to home because she had with two small children there.

In 1989, she became the county's chief of program planning and development, and in that post she became accustomed to 60-hour weeks and "wearing a beeper."

When former health officer Thomas Andrews was promoted to land use and environmental officer for the county, Ms. Phillips and two other local candidates applied for the top spot in the health department.

Ms. Phillips' appointment must be confirmed by Nelson J. Sabatini, the state secretary of health and mental hygiene, and that is expected by the end of the week, a department spokesman said.

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