Health secretary for Schaefer picked by Ehrlich to return to post


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. rounded out his Cabinet yesterday by naming Nelson J. Sabatini as his choice to run Maryland's health department - a post Sabatini also held under the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The nomination completes Ehrlich's Cabinet appointments, a group of 15 men and four women that includes three African-Americans and three Democrats.

Ehrlich has not appointed a secretary of higher education, but Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said the administration does not consider that position part of the Cabinet, although it was treated as such under previous governors.

Sabatini, 62, is executive vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System, where he is in charge of adding hospitals to the system.

Before that, he worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene under Schaefer. Along with Mary Ann Saar, chosen as secretary of public safety and correctional services, Sabatini is the second former Schaefer secretary to join Ehrlich's administration.

Sabatini, who must be confirmed by the Senate, would run an agency that caters to low-income Marylanders and runs the state's Medicaid program. In his budget, Ehrlich proposed adding $5.8 million to the mental health division.

"I think that the administration is going to be making health care one of its priorities, which is something I'm very excited about," Sabatini said. He said he hopes to be able to "reduce the number of people in this state don't have access to health care - the uninsured and underinsured."

And, he added, he wants to "find ways to responsibly return programs in health care to reflect financial sustainability. I think there are programs that have been expanded without adequate funding," such as mental health and Medicaid.

Sabatini had said in December that he had little desire to return to government.

But he said yesterday, "It's very difficult to say no to a friend, and it's almost impossible to say no to a governor."

When asked how he managed to persuade Sabatini to take the job, Ehrlich said: "I have my ways. ... He's who we wanted."

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