In his heyday, Neil Solomon ran the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, wrote a syndicated column, was host on a weekly Baltimore television show, set up a recorded telephone answering service for health problems, wrote popular weight reduction books and appeared on "every major television talk show" in the country.
His critics said then that Solomon was spread too thinly to manage adequately the state's largest bureaucracy.
Now they say he should have been fired.
Neil Solomon, M.D., PhD, diet doctor and the first and only Maryland state secretary of the health department, has become a one-man campaign issue. Both candidates for governor have promised to dismiss him if elected. For many candidates across the state, Solomon has become the bureaucrat who symbolizes what is least admired in government: inefficiency, insensitivity, broken promises and cronyism.
Solomon smiles at the new publicity . . "I think it's nifty. I've never been a campaign issue before. Not being a politician I look it all from an entirely new perspective . . . and I was planning to leave anyway."
The charges against him surfaced in major reports three years ago. They said that Solomon was a part-time executive who allowed his department to deteriorate, appointed a few friends to dominate operations completely and did little to salvage the department's severe morale problem.
He continues to deny the charges as he has throughout his tenure. They are the fabrications of jealous bureaucrats and vested interest groups, he says.
The two men running for governor - Democrat Harry R. Hughes and Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr. - have specific complaints about Solomon's celebrity status and how it affected his department.In explaining why he would replace Solomon, Beall said, "I'd be happier with someone who is perceived by the public as working diligently and effectively in his job."
Hughes said he has heard enough criticism from private medical professionals, employes of Solomon's department and legislators to lead him to the conclusion that "Solomon's department is a good example of what is generally wrong with state government.
"From my own personal experience as secretary of transportation I know a cabinet position is not only a full-time job but that there are never enough hours," Hughes continued. "I don't know how (Solomon) can practice medicine, appear on talk shows and write syndicated columns while running the health department. It should be a full-time job."
Solomon answers that he puts in a full 40-hour week as chief health officer just as he promised he would when appointed to the job in 1969.
It is the same contention hemade in the summer of 1975 when investi-Mandel found otherise. Known as the Dewberry Report, the conclusions of this five-week study were devastating.
Solomon was depicted as a bureaucrat who earned -41,000 a year for working part-time at best. Four days a week he arrived at the office around 2:30 p.m. and left before 6 p.m. On the fifth day he worked eight hours. As a result, the report said. his department's programs deteriorated, employe moral was low, professional resources were used to infrequently and problems discovered in a study two years earlier had not been corrected but had "considerably worsened" despite an "abundance of rhetoric" by Solomon that things were improving.
"The results of lack of confidence are evident in the disunity within the department and the dissatisfaction of citizens' councils and professional organizations working with it," the report stated. "The committee believes the lack of confidence in existing management is irreversible."
Mandel stood by Solomon and refused to dismiss him. State legislators and citizen activists, though, did not give up. They have continued to monitor the health department, which employs over 15,000 people. It is responsible for the state mental hospitals and the regulation of nursing homes, drug abuse programs, environmental protection, sewage treatment, programs for juvenile delinquents and dozens of others.
Solomon is applauded for his work in the environmental health field. Soon after taking office the ordered the first of a series of sewer moratoriums in Maryland. New construction was halted in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs as a result but a serious pollution and a health problem was blunted.
The chief health officer is openly proud of his accomplishment. "My first act was to blow the whistle on the sewer problem and I'll never forget it. It wasn't 20 minutes before the the mayor of Baltimore called me and said I couldn't impose a sewer moratorium. Then speculators guaranteed I wouldn't be in office another 48 hours unless I rescinded the order. But I did it. I imposed the first sewer moratorium in the state."
One Montgomery County activist who lobbied Solomon on his juvenile programs, also gives him praise for these programs. "I'd heard all about him before, that he didn't care and was all show," said Marion Mattingly. "Then I worked with him and I realized he could be counted on, he did care about people."
It is his performance overseeing the mental health programs that draws thegreatest criticism.
In 1947 the Justice Department sued Solomon and the state for the poor care at Rosewood Center, then a 2,120-patient hospital for the mentally retarded in Baltimore County. Overcrowded, locked cottages in the 60 building complex, little or no treatment for the patients and unsanitary conditions were cited as reasons for the charge that Rosewood deprived the patients of their constitutional rights to proper and humane care.
The suit was described as a test case for mental patients across the country. Solomon agreed with many of the characterizations, began implementing some of the changes, but not without anger. He called the suit "an unwarranted and vicious attack on the state" because Justice knew of the progress he said had been made under his administration.
One year later Solomon's mental health commissioner resigned because he felt Solomon was, in fact, making little progress at Rosewood or the other institutions. Within days, local health officers organized to voice no confidence in Solomon.
Solomon now says the mental health commissioner "wasn't competent," and that the author of the critical Dewbery report "was instructed only to write about the negative things."
However, three reports issued by the Humane Practices Commission - a legislative oversight committee - in 1973, 1975 and 1977 move in mood from optimism to frustration. "From our limited observations we cannot determine whether Maryland is ahead or behind the rest of the nation," states the earliest report. The overcrowding in the hospitals, lack of privacy and the unadorned rooms left the committee members with a sense that the hospitals were "nothing but bleak pictures of despair." Members concluded that community homes must be set up and the patients moved out of these "ancient warehouses."
By 1977, the commission noted "there has been little expansion in community services since the first report." Legislation had been passed, federal money received but no new community centers have been established.
These stalled programs and Solomon's protests that he was remedying the problems led one group of activist parents of handicapped children to ask the Prince George's County Democrats to include the firing of Solomon in their party platform this spring. The Democrats refused but the activists got wide spread exposure around the state for their demand.
Solomons says these activist are wrong. He has tried to solve the problems but "nobody'd listen," he said.
Few political activist groups in Maryland are as vocal as those in support of the handicapped and national experts contend that almost everywhere state health officers have difficulty keeping up with their demands.
Solomon's probably not worse than many and he's probably better than a few," said Ray Glasscote of the American Psychiatric Society. "Maryland's not doing the change from state institutions to community homes just puts it in the same category as most of the other states."
Others are harsher on Solomon. "If you look at states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois and certainly Nebraska you see how state health departments can change," said Terry Perl of Chimes Inc., a nonprofit private organisation for care of the mentally retarded. "With the next secretary we will perhaps determine whether the fault lies with the man or with the system, whether the bureaucracy inhibits the development of new, humane programs."