The head of the state's health department, who had been critical of the governor's office for its handling of patient neglect at the Arizona State Veteran Home, abruptly resigned her "dream job" Thursday.
Susan Gerard, director of Arizona Department of Health Services, gave no explanation for her decision to quit in her brief, one-page resignation letter to Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"It has been an honor to serve as your health policy advisor, and currently in my dream job as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services," Gerard stated in the letter. "However, I do believe it is time for me to move on."
Her resignation is effective Aug. 1.
Gerard's decision comes little more than a month after state health inspectors declared residents in the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix to be in immediate jeopardy - the worst possible designation for a nursing home. It was the second time in a year the home had been cited by state health officials.
In late May, state health inspectors declared the home in immediate jeopardy after allegations that staff discharged a man who was too sick to take care of himself. Investigators from the state's Adult Protective Services were responding to a complaint that staff drove the patient home where he was left to fend for himself.
Later, Gerard voiced her frustration with the governor's office in e-mails that were later made public.
In March 2007, Napolitano found herself under fire for her handling of the nursing home that cares for some of the state's oldest war veterans. At the time state health officials found cases of abuse and neglect during unannounced inspection of home. They reported cases in which patients burned themselves with cigarettes, were left to sit in soiled undergarments, and were ignored for hours. The home was also hit with $20,000 in fines from the federal government because of the reported abuses.
Gerard alerted Alan Stephens, then the governor's chief of staff, who did not tell the governor of the problems until the day before the story broke. Stephens and Pat Chorpenning, then the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs that oversees the home, resigned shortly after issues at the home became public.
January Contreras, the governor's policy adviser for health-related issues, will serve as acting director of the state health department.
Jeanine L'Ecuyer, a spokeswoman for the governor, said a search for a full-time replacement will begin in August. That person will most likely only serve for the remainder of Napolitano's term, which ends in January 2010.
Word of Gerard's pending departure came as a surprise to many at the department of health services, said Janey Pearl, a spokeswoman for the agency. She said Gerard had been talking about wanting more time to care for her 87-year-old mother, who lives outside the state.
"This was news to us," Pearl said of her boss's resignation. "I think she'll be spending a lot of time back East."
The agency is one of the largest in the state, employing about 1,800 workers and with a budget of $1.4 billion. Gerard, who was appointed head of the agency in April 2003, walks away from a $136,000 annual salary. Before taking over the agency, she served as Napolitano's health care policy adviser.