Corbett names Wolf secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Health

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Gov. Tom Corbett has nominated Michael Wolf, the state's acting health secretary and a former pharmaceutical lobbyist, to be secretary of the Department of Health.

The Harrisburg native began his career in the political realm, including serving as the political director of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and with the Tom Ridge for Governor Campaign. He served in the Ridge administration in the Office of International Business Development for nearly four years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Wolf, 46, also worked for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, as director of public affairs and policy. In his role there, Mr. Wolf said he was responsible for lobbying in states as well as "working with legislators to educate them about issues important to Pfizer and to the industry."

He had been serving as acting secretary of the agency since October. He must be confirmed by a majority of the state Senate.

Republican Sen. Pat Vance of Cumberland County, who chairs the Senate's public health and welfare committee, said "communications have been excellent" during Mr. Wolf's time as acting secretary.

"That doesn't mean we agree on every issue," she added.

As the state's top health regulator, Mr. Wolf will head an agency with an annual budget of $838 million and about 1,700 employees. It oversees regulation of hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities while organizing and supporting public health initiatives.

Among his goals for the department are increasing access to care through more primary care centers around the state in underserved areas, modernizing hospital regulation and harnessing technology to improve care, Mr. Wolf said in an interview Friday.

The state's largest health care union, which sued the Department of Health earlier this week over a plan to consolidate rural health centers, issued a statement criticizing the selection of Mr. Wolf.

"Instead of ensuring all Pennsylvania citizens access to health care services, he wants to close nearly half the public health centers across the state and slash the level of public health care professionals. This is the wrong direction for Pennsylvania," said Neal Bisno, president of SEIU Healthcare PA. The union cited a recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranking the state 43rd in public health spending, with an average of $14 per person. The median among states was $27.

Mr. Wolf has a bachelor's degree from Slippery Rock University in political science and a master's degree from the University of Phoenix in international business, the release announcing his appointment said.

A 1996 law removed the requirement that the state's secretary of health be a physician and also created the position of physician general. About 60 percent of state and territorial health officials are either physicians or have a master's degree in public health, according to a list of officials on the website of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Mr. Wolf said his time as acting secretary has given him a good understanding of the needs of the department, despite not having a background in the medical or public health field.

"I think that when people look at my qualifications, I've been able to prove I will be an excellent administrator of the Department of Health." His role is to be a leader in the department, he said.

A statement from the governor said, "Michael has proven his ability to manage this important department and is well-respected among his colleagues. I have confidence in his knowledge of the public health system, as well as his leadership ability and dedication to the commonwealth."

The salary for the secretary of the department of health by statute is $149,804 but as members of Mr. Corbett's Cabinet have agreed to forgo cost-of-living increases, Mr. Wolf will have an annual salary of $139,931.

Mr. Wolf's predecessor in the job generated considerable controversy in the position, most famously after a highly publicized argument with a Harrisburg diner owner over the freshness of his egg sandwich.

Mr. Corbett also announced the appointment of two veteran prosecutors for the office of inspector general. Michael A. Sprow was named as acting inspector general and K. Kenneth Brown II will serve as chief counsel. Both men will begin their new duties immediately, the governor's office said.

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Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.


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