Department of Human Services Director James Buford wrongly claimed at an Oct. 7 press conference that Forest Haven, the city facility for the mentally retarded, had qualified 160 of its 400 beds for Medicaid funding.

After inquiries from the press, Buford acknowledged yesterday that he was "technically incorrect" in telling reporters at the press briefing that, "during the last two months of fiscal 1981, August and September, we were successful in regaining certification for 160 of the 400 beds."

Forest Haven lost its Medicaid certification in September 1980. The city is now losing $50.50 a day in federal reimbursement for each of the 400 Medicaid-eligible beds at Forest Haven. That translates into a daily loss of $20,200 in funding to the financially-strapped city.

The certification was withdrawn because of numerous deficiencies at the sprawling facility in Laurel. Serious understaffing remains the primary reason that Forest Haven continues to be uncertifiable, according to Buford's department. At the press conference, Buford said the city had been unable to fill at least 50 staff jobs, including occupational and physical therapists.

Buford said yesterday that he had been told by Forest Haven staff members on Oct. 1 that new therapists had been hired, and that he assumed the hirings meant the beds in question were certifiable. However, the D.C. Licensing and Certifying Agency must formally certify that the facility meets standards and, to date, the agency has not, Buford said yesterday.

Buford said he learned just prior to the Oct. 7 press conference that certification of the beds had been delayed because the licensing agency apparently lacked the staff to complete it.

He said he announced the certification anyway because "Forest Haven had been getting a bad rap and it was an opportunity" to publicize apparent progress at the institution.

Asked whether he was wrong to have made the announcement, he said, "I am acknowledging I was technically incorrect."