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FINALLY, A NEW COMMISSIONER NOMINATION OF HEALTH CHIEF ENDS UNCERTAINTY

AFTER RISKING the fiscal well-being of the county Health Department over his failure to hire a qualified commissioner, County Executive Gorski has finally come up with a new administrator who appears capable of filling the bill.

And to think, he did it without having to hike or supplement the $82,340 county salary, a feat that had been described as nearly impossible to achieve.

Gorski's nomination of Air Force Col. Arnold Lubin as the new commissioner ends a two-and-half-year staredown with the state. Albany demands that large counties comply with the sensible requirement that their health commissioners be, among other things, medical doctors.

Gorski's fondness for acting Commissioner Ralph Citron, a dentist who lacks the required degree as a medical doctor, made it hard to determine whether the county was vigorously trying to fulfill the mandate the past 30 months or was stalling in hopes the state would relent.

In any case, the nomination of Lubin -- assuming he is confirmed by the County Legislature -- ends a period of uncertainty in the department. Not only was there uncertainty over how long Citron would be running things, there also was a question as to how long the state's patience would last before it imposed financial sanctions on the county.

But beyond restoring stability, Lubin's selection seems beneficial in its own right.
Two decades as a health administrator at various Air Force bases would seem to give him the managerial background necessary to run the county's $20 million-a-year health operation.

And the fact that he has specialized in pediatrics should prove invaluable for a department with an interest in making sure mothers and children attend county health clinics and get the preventive care that is less costly in the long run, both in human and financial terms. That is especially important in an urban community that has a high infant mortality rate.

Lubin, a Buffalo native now stationed at a Texas Air Force base, expects to assume the county post Feb. 1. Citron is expected to retire then. But Gorski, who has steadfastly championed the acting commissioner, said Citron "will continue to have a role to play."

Citron has won praise during his extended stint as acting commissioner, most notably for improving care for the county's disadvantaged mothers and their children. But given Lubin's qualifications and the fact that the rest of the Health Department administration can acquaint him with Erie County's operation, it is hard to imagine what Citron's role might be.

If it is as a paid consultant, Gorski will be hard pressed to justify it, given the county's precarious financial condition and the qualifications of the nominee he has finally selected.

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