HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila, who was best known for getting into a dispute over an egg sandwich, stepped down Thursday from Gov. Tom Corbett's Cabinet.
Avila wants to pursue other interests and spend more time with his wife and children, who were unable to relocate and have continued to live in Albany, N.Y., since he took the helm of Health Department in Harrisburg early last year, the governor said in a statement.
Early in his tenure, Avila reportedly got into an argument with a Harrisburg cafe owner over the freshness of an egg sandwich and shouted: "Do you know who I am? I am the secretary of health!"
He also spent taxpayers' money to outfit himself and his top aides in blue "Department of Health" jackets and at his own expense had a badge made for himself with the state seal and his job title, which Corbett's office made him get rid of, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last year.
Avila becomes the third senior member of the Corbett administration to leave in the last several months, following Corbett's first chief of staff and legislative secretary.
Avila, 51, who is a physician and a lawyer, supervised the department's 1,700 employees and $1 billion budget since early 2011.
"Dr. Avila's education and experience has been an asset to the department," Corbett said, citing the secretary's advocacy for keeping children's immunizations current and his efforts to educate Pennsylvanians about the spread of the West Nile and other viruses.
Avila also advocated keeping track of potential health impacts of natural gas drilling.
In 2011, Avila told a governor's advisory commission that creating an official state registry of people who complain about adverse health impacts could help "refute or verify claims that the public health is being impacted by drilling in the Marcellus Shale."
The state House of Representatives approved $2 million to help create such a registry as part of a bill to regulate the rapid growth of natural gas exploration, but the money was stripped during last-minute negotiations between GOP legislative leaders and the Republican administration.
Avila previously worked as a deputy commissioner of health in Suffolk County, N.Y.
Michael Wolf, the department's current executive deputy secretary, was named as acting secretary until a full-time successor is named.