County Executive Gorski today announced the selection of a Buffalo-born U.S. Air Force colonel as the county's new health commissioner.
Col. Arnold Lubin, M.D., was introduced as the nominee for the position that has been filled by acting Health Commissioner Ralph Citron, a Buffalo dentist.
Gorski said Lubin is well qualified to oversee the county's $20-million-a-year health operation, noting Lubin's medical and administrative background. Lubin, whose specialty is pediatrics, has spent the last two decades in administrative positions at several Air Force bases across the United States.
"He's an immensely talented individual," Gorski said. "He has what it will take to run the Health Department at a time when outside funding is shrinking and needs keep growing."
The commissioner-designate said his first activities as health chief will be to conduct a complete review of current department practices and policies.
"Dynamic isn't what I intend to be this morning. I'm not going to pound on the lectern and say I'm going to do this or that. It's too early for that," he said.
Lubin will retire from the Air Force in January and assume his new duties as health commissioner Feb. 1 if he is confirmed by the County Legislature, as expected, sometime before the start of the new year.
Lubin, 53, graduated from the University at Buffalo Medical School and also holds a master's degree in Public Health Administration from Johns Hopkins University.
He is currently stationed at Randolph Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Texas.
The county has been without a permanent commissioner for nearly 2 1/2 years, a situation that has drawn criticism from the state Health Department. The state was critical of the county's slow pace in filling the key health slot to the point where officials threatened the cut off millions of dollars in state program reimbursements and grants.
During its protracted search for a permanent health commissioner, the administration repeatedly claimed the biggest hurdle in finding a new commissioner is the $82,340-a-year paycheck, which is considered low for an experienced doctor.
Gorski and Deputy County Executive David Smith had discussions with the University at Buffalo Medical School to include teaching responsibilities in the new health commissioner's role in a bid to boost the salary to the $100,000 range.
But, ironically, Lubin is apparently willing to accept the post at the current salary level. Gorski said Lubin's pay may go up slightly in step with cost-of-living raises for the county's unionized white-collar workers but ruled out any side arrangements with the university.
The county executive did say, however, Lubin may provide informal consultations to Erie County Medical Center and the Erie County Home in the future, allowing him to draw on his experience in managing medical facilities.
The controversial Citron was at Gorski's side as he introduced his permanent replacement. Gorski, who has remained a vocal fan of Citron over the past nearly three years, restated his support and admiration.
The county executive said he envisioned Citron and Lubin working together in what he termed "a nice synergy."
While Citron is planning to retire from full-time county employment when Lubin takes over, Gorski said the veteran health worker will "continue to have a role to play."
Gorski remained mum on exactly what that role will be. However, it's expected to be one of a consultant.
Like Citron, Lubin advocates public-private partnerships to deliver health care services. He said he supports seeking all the help he can get "from all acceptable sources."
Citron has won both praise and criticism during his longer-than-expected stint as acting commissioner. His take-charge style and his unapologetic attitude have put him in the spotlight numerous times in the past 29 months.
One of his major achievements is improved pre- and post-natal care for the county's disadvantaged women and their offspring through the T-L-C Baby program. The comprehensive medical program has attracted national attention and praise.
Meanwhile, Citron has raised the ire of many county legislators who charge he has plotted dramatic changes in Health Department policies and services without their input or permission.
One battle that remains unresolved involves Citron's plans to contract with private health care providers to run county clinics.
Lawmakers and residents were shocked to learn Citron had brought in Children's Hospital to provide pediatric services at the Jesse Nash Clinic.
He was also criticized in a recent comptroller's audit for chronic abuse of sick time.