Dr. Georges Benjamin, Maryland's health secretary since 1999, has been selected to head the nation's leading organization of public health professionals, the group said yesterday.
His selection as executive director of the 50,000-member American Public Health Association was announced in its November newsletter, which said he will assume the post in January. He was chosen from more than 70 candidates, the newsletter said.
Benjamin, who was out of town yesterday, declined to comment on his appointment but said through a spokesman that he has no plans to leave his current position before the end of the year. The next governor will take office and select a new Cabinet in January.
News of the appointment quickly circulated yesterday among legislators, hospital administrators and public health officials, who praised Benjamin for his leadership of the sprawling department.
"I think he's been the finest health secretary we could hope for," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Pikesville Democrat and registered nurse. "Everything he touches he does a fabulous job on.
"He's a hands-on guy who isn't just keeping a bureaucracy running but really deals with people," she said, noting that he frequently has intervened on behalf of people who felt they were not receiving needed services. She also praised him for helping to forge a statewide response to bioterrorism.
Nelson J. Sabatini, a former state health secretary who is executive vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System, said of Benjamin, "He's just a very decent human being, and I have a lot of respect for him. He'll do a great job."
Through lobbying and other activities, the public health association influences national and state policies on issues such as pollution control, smoking, environmental health and immunization.
Benjamin joined the state heath department in 1995, when he was appointed deputy secretary for public health services. He had been chairman of community health at D.C. General Hospital and was Washington's acting commissioner of public health. He also was an emergency medical doctor at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
Last year, he was president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
"Dr. Benjamin is a well-connected, respected leader among his peers and is a credible public health spokesman," Faye Wong, president of the American Public Health Association, said in the group's newsletter.