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County Health Chief to Step Down Nov. 1 : Government: Robert C. Gates has headed the agency, which faces huge funding cuts, since 1984. He offers no explanation for his decision to resign.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert C. Gates, 54, the embattled head of the mammoth county Department of Health Services, announced Wednesday that he is resigning, effective Nov. 1.

The brief announcement came after the close of business hours and neither Gates nor his staff would discuss reasons for the resignation.

“I really don’t want to discuss my resignation until the board has had a chance to act on it,” Gates said during a brief interview. A career civil servant, Gates has headed the department since 1984.

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Gates, who is scheduled to present his new $2.5-billion budget to the Board of Supervisors today, said he would attend the hearing.

The resignation comes at a time when the Department of Health Services is facing huge budget deficits caused by shrinking government dollars going into health care for the poor. Most of the county’s health care budget is financed with federal and state dollars under the Medicaid and Medi-Cal programs, other programs to support urban hospitals and various special public health grants.

With the county health agency facing a shortfall of $100 million to $600 million, many were predicting that Gates might have no alternative but to propose closing hospitals and laying off thousands of employees.

Toby Staheli, a spokeswoman for Gates, said he announced his resignation in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. She said he would not run away from the budget problems.

“He plans to stay active. He will be very active on the budget situation,” she said.

For the last several years, Gates has come under intense criticism from some supervisors, particularly Gloria Molina.

In January, during an intense hearing before the board, Gates required emergency medical treatment when he grew weak and appeared to faint during an exchange with Molina.

Paramedics were rushed to the Hall of Administration to revive the health director and he was hospitalized. He was back on the job within days.

A staff member in Molina’s office said the supervisor was out Wednesday with the flu and would not make a statement.

Much of the criticism directed at Gates stemmed from frustration by supervisors with his handling of the Health Services Department finances and what some said was his brinkmanship with the budget.

Dependent on a dizzying number of different revenue sources, many of them part of the complex interrelationship between the state and federal governments, Gates frequently spent hours trying to explain financial problems to the board.

Gates and his budget advisers have pursued a variety of imaginative and aggressive appeals to federal and state agencies.

Outside the health department, Gates was highly respected for keeping the department together during a time of unprecedented challenges to public health programs.

As head of the agency, Gates was responsible for six major hospitals, including County-USC Medical Center, one of the largest public hospitals in the nation, and dozens of community health centers. He has been in charge of public health programs, such as designing countermeasures to combat AIDS and tuberculosis. Environmental health and emergency response programs have also been part of his domain.

One of his most ambitious projects has been trying to come up with $2 billion to finance the replacement of the aging County-USC Medical Center and other facilities badly damaged during the Northridge earthquake.


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