New health officer in Howard

County executive to announce former Baltimore commissioner today as his choice

February 06, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson is to be named Howard County's new health officer, according to a resolution introduced before the Howard County Council last night.

County Executive Ken Ulman has scheduled a news conference today in Ellicott City to announce the move.

"I think he's the best public health officer in the country," Ulman said last night.

He said "somebody of Dr. Beilenson's caliber and character" would help make public health a major focus of his administration.

Beilenson, a Cedarcroft resident who resigned as city health commissioner in June to run for Congress, was mentioned as a possible appointee for several Cabinet-level posts in Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration - including state health secretary. Beilenson had expressed interest in that post after the November election, but O'Malley chose John M. Colmers, a former chairman of the Maryland Health Care Commission.

Last night, Beilenson said Ulman offered him the Howard job several days ago. He would replace Dr. Penny Borenstein, who strongly supported Howard's no-smoking law - a bill Ulman co-sponsored with former County Executive James N. Robey. She resigned yesterday.

"I was very pleased that Mr. Ulman called me to see if I'd be interested," Beilenson said just before the resolution naming him as Ulman's choice was introduced.

The council's five members - four of whom expressed admiration for Beilenson - are to vote on the resolution March 5. It would then go to the state health secretary for approval. Local health officers are state officials but are chosen by joint agreement of local and state governments.

The job in prosperous but small Howard County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, is a far cry from larger Baltimore's poverty-linked problems with drug addiction, AIDS and lead poisoning, but Beilenson said he sees another kind of opportunity beckoning.

"It's fair to say they are very different jurisdictions, but one of the really nice things about Howard County rather than Baltimore is that there are fewer really acute problems," he said. "In Baltimore, you couldn't do a lot of primary prevention. This gives me a real opportunity to do real prevention."

Although Howard's Health Department has an annual budget of $17 million, compared with Baltimore's $225 million, Beilenson said he is excited about Ulman's desire to make Howard a "model public health county." He said he is also impressed with Ulman's interest in long-term results.

"It's rare for a politician to push for something that will come to fruition after he leaves office," Beilenson said. But Ulman is willing, he said.

Cancer is of particular interest to Ulman, whose brother, Doug, is a cancer survivor. The Ulman family founded the Ulman Cancer Fund to help young people battling the disease.

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