Dr. Bernstein attending Sunset Committee hearings. I don’t want to talk about that. Heatly in fact called. But I have yet to change a decision because of those calls.” BETTY KORNDORFFER, who quit the health department in frustration last year, remembers the Autumn Hills case differently. “I just had a helpless feeling,” she says. “My own department should have decertified Autumn Hills. And we were doing nothing.” She says she wrote “volumes of reports, seven and eight pages, single spaced,” but got the feeling she wasn’t getting through to her superiors. Some cases she reported on didn’t even get referred to the district attorney, she says. “I was crying to anyone that would listen to me and it was like going up against a brick wall. I mean, a lot of anguish, pain, and suffering could have been avoided if our superiors had taken action,” Korndorffer says. Attorney General Jim Mattox, whose office represents TDH when it seeks legal action against nursing homes, says he thinks Bernstein has learned from those days. “I wouldn’t want to comment for Commissioner Bernstein, but I suspect he’s glad he came through that with as few scars as he actually did. And I think he learned from that process, too,” Mattox says. Mattox cites the closing of a home in Greenville last year. “I think he, Commissioner Bernstein, was trying to make sure the health department does not get burned for a similar-type circumstance as the Autumn Hills thing. That’s not to say that Autumn Hills could not happen today because I think it probably could. But it would be more difficult than what it was before.” Bernstein has met with Mattox to coordinate the enforcement policy on nursing homes, but he disagrees with the Attorney General that a system of administrative fines needs to be put in place a recommendation also made this month by the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission. “We’ve always been wary of fines that kind of fines,” says Bernstein, claiming that it would be “terribly cumbersome” for his department. Betty Korndorffer says her friends in the health department tell her that the new inspectors are having problems with the same homes that Korndorffer used to write up. Friends have told her, “Now that you’re gone, they realize it wasn’t just you,” she says. “All this publicity hasn’t really resulted in any changes,” Korndorffer says. Patricia Rosendahl, who quit as a health department social worker in August, agrees. “Nursing homes are just as sorry as they’ve ever been,” she says. Another area that calls for health department regulation is nuclear waste issues. An incident that took place in 1980 concerning nuclear waste is, perhaps, not as important as the nursing home death cases, but Dr. Bernstein’s reaction to it did not go unnoticed by his critics. When citizens of Leon County, which is midway between Dallas and Houston, On EDB R. B.: . .. See, and that’s another thing. They got me in the position where it looked like I was defending the damn stuff, and it’s terrible stuff. T.O.: But there were quotes in the papers where it looked like you were saying it’s not as bad as auto accidents, cigarette smoking, or barbecue, and all that. R. B.: That is absolutely the fact! Absolutely the fact. You get 50,000 people a year dying on the roads. Do something about it! Write about it! Why don’t you write about it? That’s preventable. And they’re young people. Why the hell don’t you do something about it? Why do you putz around with what you’re doing? I’m saying this in a nice way, but you see I’m really riled up about it. Thirty percent of all the cancer comes from cigarettes! I’m just telling you. There’s no perspective to this. We haven’t found the first case it’s just like the nuclear business. Show me how tor r s learned that a Houston firm planned to build a low-level nuclear waste storage facility in the county, they became alarmed. They focused much of their attention on the health department, which would have to decide whether or not to license the facility. After the storm swirled for several months, Bernstein took out an ad in the Centerville News to address the county residents’ concerns. Under the circum many people have been killed by the civilian use of nuclear energy. Show me one! Some guy was putting a solar system on his roof up here a couple of years ago. Fell off the roof and killed himself. Did you see people parading up and down about that? That’s more than all have been killed . . . Now, if you’re going to talk to me about what it does sixty years from now . . Something kills us. Keep this in context, too. Something kills us. We don’t know, unless it’s tuberculosis or an accident of some sort. We all die. And some of us develop cancer. At an ancient age. See, this is plastic [he rubs his hand on his chair]. I can’t afford leather. Plastic is all full of nasty chemicals. And probably by doing this, I’m taking two seconds off my life I’m just guessing. But something kills us. Every time you walk past a granite building there is more radiation comes off that damn thing than all of Leon County put together. I’m not saying it’s not important. But let’s not fall apart. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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