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Official May Be Fired for Nursing Home ‘Advice’

Times Staff Writer

A high-level employee of the state Department of Health Services will be disciplined for advising nursing home operators how they might undermine new laws designed to curb the abuse of their patients, department officials said Thursday.

Bill Smith, a section chief who spoke at training sessions to educate nursing home administrators about the new law, faces possible firing for a variety of “offensive” remarks, said Stan Cubanski, chief deputy director of the Department of Health Services.

“The department has notified Mr. Smith (that) disciplinary action will be taken against him,” Cubanski told an Assembly budget subcommittee that is investigating charges against Smith.

The allegations against Smith, a 21-year employee of the department, came primarily from five nursing home ombudsmen who heard Smith speak at two training sessions in April.

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The ombudsmen, volunteers who attempt to see that nursing home patients receive proper care, testified before the Assembly committee that Smith told nursing home operators, “I’m with you, not against you.”

They testified Smith also said:

- Before correcting deficiencies discovered by state investigators, administrators should complain to higher level state officials about the investigators.

- Nursing home industry lobbyist Thomas N. Truax “can work miracles” for the industry by simply “dropping by the governor’s office and making suggestions.”

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- The nursing home industry should work to amend a law signed earlier this year by Gov. George Deukmejian that is designed to improve patient care.

The statute, considered to be a landmark reform in the regulation of nursing homes, provides increased state funds for patient care, tougher penalties for negligence and stricter enforcement by state investigators. It was the result of a compromise between patient advocacy groups and the nursing home industry.

Smith was one of two department officials in Sacramento assigned to travel throughout the state and inform nursing home operators how to comply with the new law.

Despite Smith’s reported remarks, Cubanski said, the Department of Health Services is attempting to fully implement the legislation.

“We’re going to follow the law,” Cubanski told the subcommittee. “Our first obligation is to the patients.”

Because of the pending disciplinary action, Smith did not testify at the hearing.

He declined to comment about the allegations when contacted by The Times.

Last year, Cubanski said, Smith received a verbal reprimand from the department after Los Angeles County complained about similar remarks he made to county officials.

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