Howard's health officer to lead new state agency

Matuszak to leave county post Dec. 26

Robey to launch search

November 08, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's health officer will head a new state health agency expected to play an important role in preparing the state to defend against bioterrorism and in responding to any new bioterrorism scare or incident.

Dr. Diane L. Matuszak, a 19-year veteran of public health service and Howard's health officer since May 1999, will leave Dec. 26 to become director of the Maryland Community Health Administration. The 4-month-old agency has an annual budget of $79 million and supervises the 24 local health departments in the state.

"Bioterrorism is included in this administration. West Nile virus will be in there, too - all the things over the years I've worked on," said Matuszak, 52, a Columbia resident who will be two levels below the state health secretary.

Maryland, she said, has been "a little ahead of the curve" in planning biological warfare defenses.

"I think everybody's finding that what we thought was going to be the model isn't the model. They were thinking a much more military model - weapons of mass destruction," she said.

Matuszak has been interested in public health since attending medical school in Buffalo, N.Y. And despite the uncertainty and anxiety since Sept. 11, she is looking forward to the new job, she said.

"I think certainly it's going to be challenging and interesting, but I think everything I've done in my career thus far has prepared me for the challenges. I have the same anxiety everybody would have," she said.

Since joining the social medical club in school and giving health lectures, "I just loved doing this kind of work, always," she said.

Matuszak came to the Howard job after serving as Maryland's associate director of community and public health. State officials split that agency into community health and the Family Health Administration in July.

Besides supervising local health departments, the new agency oversees epidemiology and disease control, food protection and consumer health services, environmental health coordination, health planning and policy, the office of local health and the Institutional Review Board. Matuszak will earn $139,357 a year in her new post.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey said Matuszak has helped the county. "Her community health perspective has proven invaluable both in our response efforts to the West Nile virus and more recently the anthrax bioterrorism threats. It is reassuring to know that through this new state position, all local agencies will have the benefit of Diane's skills in this very critical area."

Robey said he will launch a national search, aided by a citizens committee, for a new county health officer. A final candidate would require confirmation by the County Council, though official appointment is made by the state's secretary of health and mental hygiene.

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