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Nursing Home Official Quits Under Fire : Would Have Faced Disciplinary Action for Criticism of New State Law

Times Staff Writer

A veteran high-level state employee accused of advising nursing home operators how to circumvent tougher new enforcement laws has retired rather than face disciplinary action, state officials said Monday.

Bill Smith, an official in the Department of Health Services’ nursing home licensing division, faced possible firing for a variety of “offensive” remarks, according to the department’s chief deputy director, Stan Cubanski.

Cubanski said Smith’s most objectionable remark involved his criticism of a strict Los Angeles County policy on nursing home referrals. He quoted Smith as having told operators last fall that “Hitler would have loved” the county’s system because it was so tough.

Smith’s comment about Hitler was directed at Los Angeles County’s policy of not referring patients to a nursing home that has received even the most minimal citation.

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“As the evidence came in, it got worse and worse for Mr. Smith,” Cubanski said. “Since it was his right, he chose to retire immediately.”

Smith, 62, had worked for the department for 21 years. Last week, an Assembly subcommittee heard five witnesses testify that Smith had instructed nursing home administrators on how they could undermine enforcement of the new nursing home law.

Last month, Smith reportedly told nursing home administrators at a training session, “I’m with you, not against you,” and instructed the operators to complain about state investigators rather than correct deficiencies discovered at their facilities.

The landmark legislation, signed into law earlier this year by Gov. George Deukmejian, is considered the most significant nursing home reform in at least a decade. Among its provisions, the law increases state funds for patient care, stiffens penalties for the abuse of patients and increases training for inspectors to strengthen enforcement by the state.

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"(Smith) acknowledged some inappropriate, non-thinking kinds of comments,” Cubanski said. “As a result of making those comments, he was undermining the state’s efforts, but I don’t think it was intentional on his part. It was a painful process for Mr. Smith.”

In the course of investigating the charges against Smith, the department interviewed more than 100 people who attended one training session in April.

Smith declined to comment Monday.


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