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Press Release
NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Office of Communications
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Greg Butler
Monday, August 19, 2002
(212) 788-5290
(877) 640-1347


Current NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden Honors Dr. Baumgartner,
The City's First Woman Health Commissioner, 1954 – 1962

At a ribbon cutting ceremony earlier today, Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, today presided over the renaming of the Health Department's Chelsea Health Center, which will be henceforth called the Leona Baumgartner Health Center, in honor of the former Health Commissioner (1954-1962). Dr. Frieden was joined by Councilwoman and Health Committee Chairperson Christine Quinn, State Senator Thomas K. Duane, State Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, and Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner William T. Castro. Yesterday, August 18, marked the 100th anniversary of Dr. Baumgartner's birth.

Dr. Frieden said, "Dr. Leona Baumgartner – the first woman to serve as Commissioner for the New York City Department of Health – was a visionary public health professional. Dr. Baumgartner understood that public health must also focus on more complex, chronic disorders, including: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, drug addiction, and mental illness. She was one of the earliest voices to speak out on the health risks of smoking. The legacy of her strong and inspirational leadership remains within the foundations of our agency today."

Dr. Baumgartner joined the Health Department in 1937, and immediately established herself as a champion of maternal and child health. Her efforts lead to City government taking a stronger and more active role in children's health issues, and contributed to the steady decline in the City's infant mortality rate. Appointed Commissioner by Mayor Robert F. Wagner in 1954, Dr. Baumgartner overhauled the City's Health Code, initiated one of the first large-scale tests of the Salk polio vaccine, oversaw a pilot project on coronary heart disease that lead to the American Heart Association's first recommendations to use diet as a means to reducing heart attacks and strokes.

The Leona Baumgartner Health Clinic includes a completely renovated state-of-the-art tuberculosis clinic, as well as a new dental clinic that will re-open by the summer of 2003. These new clinics complement programs already in place, including a sexually transmitted disease clinic that provides an array of diagnostic and HIV prevention services, as well as an immunization clinic that is expanding its space and its hours of operation.