Task Force deciding fate of developmental centers
Process feels rushed to some
The state’s Task Force on the Future of Developmental Centers has held its first meeting since its formation was announced on May 22. Members learned at the all-day convocation that there will be three more meetings and that they will be expected to provide a complete outline for the state to continue care for residents displaced when the remaining centers catering to the developmentally disabled are shuttered.
The Task Force numbers 21 people from organizations and institutions affected by the closures, including parents of clients, consumers, consumer advocates, regional centers, community center advocates, members of the legislature, and staff from the Department of Developmental Services, a division of the state health department that directly oversees developmental centers.
California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Secretary Diana Dooley announced the formation of a task force on the future of developmental centers – including Sonoma Developmental Center – in May. The task force is charged with producing a “written master plan that addresses (1) the effective and efficient delivery of integrated services to meet the specialty needs of developmental center residents; and (2) the fiscal implications of developmental center operations, including the cost of resident care and services, maintenance of aging infrastructure, and utilization of existing resources.”
Just how this large group will accomplish all this by Nov. 14, still isn’t clear, according to some task force members.
“The concern I expressed to Secretary Dooley is what can we accomplish in four meetings,” Kathleen Miller said. “There are people on both sides of the fence who won’t necessarily agree. I don’t feel like that question has been answered.” Miller, whose son has been an SDC resident for many years, is president of the Parent Hospital Association and is a strong advocate for keeping at least some parts of the developmental center functioning to serve the most severely disabled residents.
Task force members were provided some data and a copy of a 2002 report on possible alternatives to developmental centers. While the report suggests many options, it does not resolve issues raised by often conflicting ideas.
Connie Lapin of Northridge has a 45-year-old son who has extreme autism, but who is able to live on his own with support from various community and state programs, something Connie and her husband fought for many years to achieve. An outspoken champion of community living for developmentally disabled, she has questions about the best way to manage the most severely disabled.
“I used to say ‘No, developmental centers aren’t useful.’ Many of the individuals still in developmental centers could be in the community, but others I can’t speak for with authority any more. I don’t know what to do with the forensic and duly diagnosed,” Lapin said. referring to people with major mental illnesses.
“I know families, developmental center parents and siblings,” Lapin said. “We both want the same thing and I don’t want us pitted against each other.”
Lapin also thinks the task force may be rushed. “I got the feeling that it happened at the last minute. We didn’t get the agenda until that day and the next meeting date hasn’t been set.”
Terry DeBell, RN, is president of an association representing state hospital Parent Councils for the Retarded and families from two facilities in Southern California.
DeBell expects a lot of work to be done outside of the meetings. “Timing is very difficult and there is still stuff going on in Sacramento on the budget. I think they are stretched thin until then. There is a lot more coming, I hope and I believe. I and others will hold the agency to this. This is very serious.”
All three have high hopes for the task force.
“I do not think that it is window dressing,” DeBell said of the task force. “There is a wide variety of views on what should happen to developmental centers in the (task force) makeup. Everybody involved is serious and committed to the care of individuals with developmental disabilities and they understand the complexity of the problems.”
“Secretary Dooley was very open, and she gave me all the time I needed to talk and comment,” Lapin noted. “She was respectful of consumers.” But even though she supports moving away from the developmental center concept, Lapin said “I wouldn’t support it if it wasn’t our consensus.”
Miller, too, is optimistic about the task force. “I feel like Secretary Dooley is sincere about exploring the issue, is keeping an open mind, and looking at issues surrounding the centers. Certainly there are those out there who say (closure is a) foregone conclusion. I’m not accepting that.”
Jim Suennen, Associate Secretary for External Affairs at CHHS acknowledged that there are no dates yet for the future meetings, but said the next was likely to happen in mid-August, with two more following, in mid-October and a final meeting sometime before Thanksgiving.
“At the next meeting there will be a discussion on how to proceed operationally, what’s best to develop, work groups or subcommittees,” Suennen said. “Right now, it’s a matter of putting on the table all of the info about the historical context so we recognize what has come before so that task force members have a sense of coming together to identify key goals and objects.”
Suennen said the task force will “be charged with developing a master plan for residents, focusing on the fiscal and budget implication of declining populations (at developmental centers), staffing and resources. They should make sure that the solutions meet the special needs of members of developmental centers.”
The information provided to task force members can be found at www.chhs.ca.gov/Pages/DCsTaskForce.aspx, including the 2002 report on alternatives to developmental centers and other useful information.