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Second top boss leaves California public health department

Original source:

The Sacramento Bee

Another top leader at the California Department of Public Health is stepping down, a move that comes only 10 weeks after the director announced his departure.

Kathleen Billingsley, the department’s chief deputy director of policy and programs, will leave her post at the end of this month, CDPH spokesman Corey Egel confirmed Wednesday.

The department’s director, Ron Chapman, left at the end of January; the Brown administration has not named a successor. The massive department oversees the care of some of California’s most vulnerable citizens, including nursing home residents, while also focusing on family health, food safety and disease prevention.

Billingsley and Chapman fell under scrutiny in recent months from legislative leaders, advocates for the elderly and investigators. In the last year, under their watch, the department was slammed with three critical reviews that issued tough findings about CDPH’s leadership, investigation backlogs and a chronic inability to promptly handle consumer complaints.

A Bee series published in November revealed further lapses in the department’s oversight of nursing homes, including its failure to monitor chainwide performance or to help consumers accurately identify nursing home ownership.

Following The Bee’s series, and the third critical audit, Pat McGinnis of the San Francisco-based California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform called for Chapman’s and Billingsley’s resignations, saying the leaders “appear immune to accountability.”

McGinnis, who was at the Capitol on Wednesday, said the vacuum at the top is a “wonderful opportunity for the governor … to put in new leadership who actually care about the consumer.”

Egel said Billingsley told her staff in an email that she would be leaving for the private sector. Her email said she plans to “continue my work and involvement with new health care delivery systems.” She said her decision to leave state service “has not been an easy one.”

A registered nurse, Billingsley was appointed to the No. 2 spot in public health in June 2011, one of two chief deputy directors. She had served in the department several years earlier, with an interim stint at CalPERS before returning to CDPH.

Advocate Carole Herman said the three critical reports last year, coupled with her own lawsuit against the state, demonstrate that “the department isn’t functioning, and they should clean house.”

Herman’s Sacramento-based group, Foundation Aiding The Elderly, sued the department in 2013 for allegedly endangering nursing home residents by failing to promptly investigate complaints. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, is pending.

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