disagree. But they have no influence from day to day. No. T.O.: What about Johnnie Marie Benson [the nursing home adminisR. B.: She has been a very strong advocate for the industry. But I can’t say it’s really made any great difference. I mean, she pays more attention, and so on; she’s a very good businesswoman. But I don’t think the regulation has been hurt in any way. On Nursing Homes T.O.: How strongly do you feel the heat in your position from the nursing home industry? Do you think they’re a powerful force? R. B.: Yeah, they’re powerful, but we don’t feel anything from day to day. I think their power is through the legislature and at least we . . . it’s all above board. We disagree and we tell them we was.” Instead, the commissioner seems interested in “protecting business instead of people,” McKinney says. REPRESENTATIVE Ed Watson of Deer Park makes a similar charge. Watson has been report ing health problems from his heavily industrial district to the health department for more than three years. Residents there complain of skin rashes and respiratory problems and Texas Air Control Board tests show levels of chlorothalonil in the air. Watson wants studies to determine if there is a link. In a letter to Bernstein last year, Watson wrote, “I consider it a serious remission on the part of your agency to fail to make a single test or study, or evidence any other cooperation in assisting with this dilemma . . . The state agency charged with the responsibility of state health matters not only fails to act, they repeatedly discount the evidence presented by others,” Watson charged. Bernstein says the evidence is simply not there. “There have been all kinds of studies. I have personally been down there. We cannot relate the skin problems to what’s in the air. Period.” Though Watson suspects Bernstein is “committed more to the polluters than to the people,” he says a recent letter he received from the Air Control Board should get Bernstein to reopen the case. The letter says the effects of chlorothalonil in the air “can only be determined through additional work performed by persons in the health profession that have experience conducting epidemio stances of the planned facility, Bernstein assured readers, “there could be no contamination of Leon County ground water or other environmental features. ” Leon County residents won their fight against the waste facility when the legislature passed a 1981 moratorium on new permits for waste storage sites. TDH was spared the decision, but Bernstein’s appearance of partisanship in the issue raised some eyebrows. Rick Lowerre, an Austin environmentalist and attorney, says Bernstein’s ad suggested that the commissioner “didn’t understand how a decision like this was supposed to be made. There is such a thing as ‘segregation of the decisionmaker.’ ” Lowerre says he was “appalled that a person who is supposed to make an unbiased decision in such a matter would prejudge it in such a bold and open way.” “Are you kidding me?” booms Bernstein. “I heard all their concerns and all their letters and all their legislators. I knew what their concerns were. And all I was saying to them was, we haven’t made a decision, [and] you can be assured that if we do say yes to this application it will be safe. “What was I supposed to do? Just sit here and get all this trash? Some of it was so bad! And so misinformed. And the people were just beating the drum over it. They invited me to a barbeque! I couldn’t make it. I’m glad I couldn’t. They’d have probably lynched me!” Bernstein complains that he couldn’t get a reporter to write both sides of the story, but in his advertisement he didn’t address one of the main concerns of the residents that the waste site was on a site susceptible to floods. “They had no good reason not to want that there except property values,” he says. One of the leaders of the Leon County residents was a young doctor named Mike McKinney, who is now the state representative from Centerville. McKinney says that the people who were planning the waste storage facility were “friends of Bernstein’s underlings, and some were even kin.” He says people in the health department “were way too close to the issue to make an impartial judgment.” Bernstein, he says, “wasn’t real nice to us.” At one meeting, people were handing out “scare sheets” about the waste dump, he says, and Bernstein grabbed one, angrily wadded it up and threw it up in the air. McKinney says Bernstein referred to him as “that crazy doctor in Centerville.” “Somebody’s got to represent the normal people along the way,” McKinney says. “That’s what I thought his job 10 SEPTEMBER 28, 1984 logical studies.” That, says Watson, is the health department. But it is the EDB issue that still rankles Bernstein the most. The issue blew up after Ron White, Assistant Deputy for Regulatory Programs in the Agriculture Department, read last December that authorities in Florida had found residues of EDB in ground water and in food products. White immediately ordered tests on food Rep. Ed Watson charged that TDH failed to act and discounted evidence. products from Texas stores. The tests showed at least 49 products with measurable levels of EDB. According to White, the Agriculture officials went first to the health department in private to request action. But he says health department officials “didn’t think it was any big deal. We told Dr. Bernstein we would go public with what we had. We gave him an opportunity to act, but he didn’t take any action.” When the Agriculture Department went public on January 2, White says, “the shit hit the fan.” For the rest of the month the story stayed in the news. State Sen. Carlos Truan called a hearing to determine what the state should do about EDB and in order to call on Dr. Bernstein to explain himself. Bernstein told the hearing that EDB “is no immediate threat, in my view and T.O.: She is, in effect, one of your bosses. And also well-known as an advocate for the industry. R. B.: Sure, that’s a built-in conflict , . . I have 18 members on the board. Two of them are consumers. The rest of them are all in the health care industry, And we either regulate, or we give money out, or we do all kinds of things. They’re physicians, hospital administrators, and they all, appropriately, speak for their associations and so on. But I’ve been here almost seven years and:k4.#041seen any pile driving, or getting together. It’s amazing. You’knOw, they just s 0 up a it. On the other a, they ofte can give you, Or ow, where you’re just thinking l and philos ophy and all th4, they give you a very practical view of yf. something stk* or shouldn’t done. But yo. the way the legislatureup.
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