Howard County Health Officer Peter Beilenson, a prominent figure on the Maryland health scene for nearly two decades, has resigned from his job after 5 1/2 years to become CEO of the Evergreen Health Cooperative, the county announced Tuesday.
Dr. Maura Rossman, deputy health officer of clinical services for the county Health Department, was appointed interim health officer.
Beilenson's resignation was effective Tuesday.
"Peter is one of the most innovative public health leaders not only here in Maryland but across the nation," County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement. "While Peter will be missed, Dr. Rossman has been an integral part of our Health Department and has forged meaningful partnerships at local and state levels, and most importantly with the community."
The Evergreen Health Cooperative is a new group that recently received a $65 million loan to start the state's first insurance co-op, a consumer-owned nonprofit that will compete against private insurers to sell health policies. The initiative is part of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act.
While in Howard County, Beilenson, who was Baltimore's health officer for 13 years before coming to work for Howard County, oversaw the creation of Healthy Howard, which facilitates access to affordable health care for uninsured county residents. Although initially criticized by some as an unnecessary expense, Healthy Howard has been largely praised in recent years as an innovative measure that helped find health insurance for thousands of county residents.
During his tenure in the county, Beilenson also encouraged schools and restaurants to serve more nutritious food, put up signs in parks and schools that say, "When thunder roars, go indoors," to protect children from getting struck by lightning, and banned teenagers from visiting tanning salons to protect them from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays.
"It's been a real pleasure," Beilenson said in an interview of his time in Howard. He said he planned to leave in two years, when Ulman's second and, by law, final term is up, but when the opportunity to head the health cooperative came along, he could not pass it up.
"It's been my passion, access to affordable, quality health care for everyone," he explained.
Earlier this year, Beilenson, 52, went public with the news that he was diagnosed about five years ago with Parkinson's disease. He did so, he said, to demonstrate the value of having good health insurance, as he has been able to afford treatments that keep his Parkinson's under control.
He said the disease had nothing to do with his leaving Howard County for a new job .
"If anything, this will be more work," he said.
Rossman has been with the county Health Department for five years, including three as medical director. She previously served as medical director for Baltimore's School Health Program. Rossman lives in Ellicott City.
"I am excited and honored by this opportunity. It is a privilege to live and work in a progressive county that supports public health infrastructure and initiatives for all Howard County residents and serves as a model for other communities," Rossman said in a statement.
Ulman said he will ask the County Council to formally nominate Rossman as health officer later this month. The state secretary of mental health and hygiene must approve the appointment.