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News: 05/01/2016

Looking for answers after SDC’s closure

Coalition wants to continue providing critical services to SDC population post-closure

The decision to close the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), as well as the rest of the state’s centers for the developmentally disabled, poses three large questions: what to do with the extremely medically fragile clients living there now; what to do with the highly trained staff who take care of them; and what to do with the incredibly valuable open space that surrounds the campus.

A coalition of government and nonprofit organizations have gotten out in front of state agencies, proposing a plan to make sure that the 350 or so remaining SDC clients find appropriate living quarters and all the necessary support to keep as many of the highly-trained staff working at what they do best in serving these clients, and to keep as much of the 900 acres as possible in public use, either as parks or open space.

Keeping the core employees available will be critical to providing special care options in the future.

“Health care is a people business,” Kathleen Miller said. “If we move it somewhere else, we are going to lose the staff. It’s not going to be the same without those people.” Miller is president of the SDC Parent Hospital Association and has a son at the facility. She and other guardians of clients at the Center are worried about the level of care their wards will receive in community settings that lack the same staffing expertise and depth as the Sonoma facility.

Transform SDC, an outreach of the SDC Coalition, has proposed a plan to address the first two issues and is marshaling political and financial support to seek feasibility study funding in the current round of budget hearings for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

The Coalition plan aims to develop a Federal Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) that can provide highly specialized services for the developmentally disabled community throughout the North Bay, preferably at the current site near Sonoma. Such an institution could qualify for higher payment rates for doctors and specialized care, and help keep the current staff from dispersing.

Part of the process of closing the center is evaluating what is there, a task usually done by the states Department of General Services (DGS) after a property is declared surplus. Looking at past closures, however, the DGS is working with the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which runs the Center, to start the site assessment early.

The DDS has requested $2.4 million be added to next year’s budget to begin a site assessment and historical review required by law. “In lessons learned from the Lanterman DC closure in 2014, it was problematic that the Historical Resources Assessment ... was not begun while the facility was still open and operational.” The institutional knowledge needed to make an accurate assessment disappeared with the employees and departmental records that were gone before the review began.

The mid-May budget revision will shape closure funding through 2017. If the Coalition garners enough backing in Sacramento, money may be set aside to begin developing this proposal further. State Senator Mike Maguire, a former Sonoma County supervisor, has been working with Assemblyman Bill Dodd to keep Sonoma County goals on track as the closure plans move forward.

Rod Stroud, special projects director for Sonoma County Department of Health Services, has been working on developing the proposal.

“These are the most fragile and complex patients in the whole system,” Stroud said. The core services needed to take care of this population, including medical, dental, nursing, and specialized medical equipment, need to be in place, he said.

The plan estimates preliminary costs from $10.5 to $14 million for construction, building rehabilitation and operational budgeting.

Sonoma County already has several Federal Qualified Healthcare Centers; community health centers in Petaluma, Sonoma and Santa Rosa. Stroud said the idea is that one of these could submit a proposal to run a specialized clinic focused on the developmentally disabled population.

The resource center would provide an extended range of treatment services to the 8,000 or so clients of Regional Centers in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, a large enough base to be economically viable, especially if the professionals providing those services can be provided adequate compensation.

“Do you build new buildings or utilize the existing facilities to create a regional hub to provide needed and necessary services to the community?” Stroud asked.

The second component of the new plan is an equipment, resources and information center, or ERIC, that will continue to provide special equipment such as shoes and wheelchairs that are currently made at the SDC.

“It allows equipment repair and adaption services to continue,” Stroud said.

The final plan element is getting the existing Acute Care Center (ACC) expanded from five to 20 clients and a second, as yet undetermined class of housing of “Last Resort” for clients who are not able to live in community homes. The ACC and others like it in Southern California, are designed to care for problem patients until they can be successfully returned to community housing. They are strictly temporary housing.

Caring for patients who are not able to be placed in these community settings poses a dilemma for the state caregivers. The Coalition would also like to see some sort of longer-term housing options to remain in place.

“We need a more indefinite period,” Miller said. “It needs to be based on individual need, not an artificial timeline.” She said that turning clients out who are not ready is “traumatic, expensive and dangerous. We’re trying to create an alternative.”

The full Health Disability Resource Center plan is available at the Transform SDC website,


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