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LAWMAKERS QUESTION HEALTH DEPT. HOPEFUL

Col. Arnold Lubin, M.D., faced questioning from members of the Erie County Legislature today in his bid to become the new health commissioner for Erie County.

While legislators wanted to know Lubin's plans for running the $20-million-a-year health operation, they also sought assurances that Lubin will not be a carbon copy of the current commissioner, Dr. Ralph S. Citron.

Citron, a Buffalo dentist who has served as interim commissioner for the past 2 1/2 years, has had an increasingly stormy relationship with the Legislature.

Lawmakers have repeatedly accused Citron of failing to be an advocate for public health and of making critical decisions about health services behind their backs.

In fact, so many legislators made references to Citron in their questioning today, that Lubin attempted to distance himself from the interim commissioner.

"Remember, I am not him, or he me," Lubin said.

"I want an opportunity to establish my own difficulties with you," Lubin added, urging legislators to judge him on his own merits and not Citron's actions.

Lubin, who has served as chief administrator at four Air Force hospitals, likened those duties and responsibilities to those of running a large county health department.

He also described himself as the kind of administrator who is willing to stand up for his programs and his people.

"I've been called a number of things in my military career, but shy is not one of them," he said.

Reacting to comments from several legislators that the county health programs have severely eroded and staff drastically reduced in the past several years, Lubin said he will be willing to "go to the wall" to protect the department.

But he also noted the tough economic times facing the county. As resources dry up, he said, it will be necessary to reassess the department's priorities.

He said he has asked county health workers to provide him with reports on various programs to aid him in his orientation once he is confirmed.

Lubin was quizzed about topics ranging from school nurses to the county's relationship with the University at Buffalo Medical School. He declined to offer specific recommendations to local health issues until he has a chance to "do (his) homework."

The Legislature has until Jan. 3 to confirm Lubin, but because lawmakers have postponed a session originally scheduled for that date, Lubin will be confirmed by default.

It appears most lawmakers were satisfied with Lubin's answers at the hearing today and will support his appointment to the $82,341-a-year post.

Lubin, a Buffalo native and UB Medical School graduate, is expected to assume his duties in early February, following his retirement from the military.

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