Capitol Alert

California public health chief Ronald Chapman to step down

The state Department of Public Health has been hit by complaints on its regulatory structure, and its head is stepping down.
The state Department of Public Health has been hit by complaints on its regulatory structure, and its head is stepping down. Los Angeles Times file

The head of California’s Public Health Department, which was recently criticized for failing to investigate thousands of nursing home complaints, is stepping down from his post at the end of January.

Dr. Ronald Chapman made the announcement in an email to staff Wednesday afternoon that said, “I have no doubt that my work in public health will continue,” but he gave no specifics. He also thanked Gov. Jerry Brown and Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley for their support of the department.

The Brown administration hasn’t named Chapman’s successor.

As recently reported by The Sacramento Bee, Chapman will leave a department facing serious challenges. It has failed to collect current, accurate ownership information on nursing homes as required by state law, for example. In some instances, the state’s database contains outright omissions of ownership information.

A lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court claims that the Public Health Department’s failure to dig into chains’ ownership “permits and even encourages large skilled-nursing chains” to set up business structures that help them avoid accountability.

A scathing state audit in October found Public Health had a backlog of more than 11,000 open complaints about nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across California. Of those, 40 percent involved allegations that the problem had harmed or was likely to harm a resident. The auditor recommended the department improve its tracking of complaints, establish clear deadlines for investigations and increase monitoring of the district offices’ compliance with laws and policies.

Earlier this year, a news reports detailed a Los Angeles County audit that found hundreds of nursing home complaints there were inappropriately closed. Other cases were investigated, but the findings were downgraded, including five that involved patient deaths, according to auditors.

And in August, an outside consultant reportedly found that Public Health’s licensing and certification program suffered from a backlog, including investigations that dragged on too long.

Brown named Chapman the department’s director in June 2011 after he spent about a year as chief medical officer for the Fairfield-based Partnership HealthPlan of California. Before that, he served as Solano County’s health officer for six years.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.