SDC focus of Sacramento meeting
On Feb. 11, Sonoma County’s legislators met with state officials in charge of the Sonoma Developmental Center for an update on their actions to fix operational problems that cost the Center’s hospital its primary license and the forfeiture of millions of dollars in federal funding in 2012. In a scathing review, an audit of the facility cited patient abuse and poor medical care.
They also discussed the final recommendations of a year-long task force review of the state’s developmental centers that calls for a dramatic shift in patient care methods away from the centralized system represented by the SDC.
“This was a follow up for accountability,” State Senator Noreen Evans said after hearing from Diana Dooley, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency and Santi Rogers, the new director of the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS).
“I am pleased,” Evans said. “There has been a change of leadership at the top of the DDS and a new team in place. They have a plan for how to start addressing issues, and have begun taking action.”
Evans said the two most pressing issues at the SDC are funding and staffing. “In the last year or two, that’s beginning to be addressed.” One measure of progress is that the SDC may be revisited as early as April for possible recertification.
Supervisor Susan Gorin attended the meeting, along with Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) and Assemblyman Mark Levine (D-San Rafael).
In 2012, the SDC’s primary hospital license was lost following a critical federal audit that found patient abuse and poor medical care. Millions of dollars in federal funding were cancelled, further exacerbating the financial strain on a system where the number of patients has been falling for years, leaving only the most critical of patients in the system, patients that cost an average of $500,000 every year to maintain.
The task force’s final recommendations came out in mid-January and call for a deep restructuring of the developmental center system, sourcing critical care patients to smaller facilities in various communities, and pooling specialized health resources in two centers, located in Northern and Southern California. Recommendations for behaviorally challenged patients and those involved with the criminal justice system mostly offer temporary respite solutions.
“The future of SDC is on everybody’s mind,” Evans said. “All the legislators that represent Sonoma County are going to be discussing what our next steps will be.”
Evans said she and others will attend the Parent Hospital Association’s yearly Legislative Meeting on March 8 to talk to family members of SDC patients and listen to their input. “My intent is to attend and talk about what we would like to do.”
“There is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty going forward, but there have been no concrete decisions made; no specific plan is in place,” Evans added. “There isn’t any timeline or plan in place and nobody knows when that might happen.”
There has been a major shift in patient care for the developmentally disabled and for mental health treatment over the past 30 years, a move away from central housing and treatment in large facilities to smaller, often privately operated homes scattered throughout the state. A major concern of many parents and relatives of the remaining patients is that they cannot receive adequate care in small, regional facilities and that the medical expertise needed is not available on a statewide basis.
“Residential care is appropriate for a great many people but there are those for whom it does not work,” Evans noted. “One of the challenges with closure is that there are people for whom residential care will not work. We’re dealing with very vulnerable human beings. We have to determine case by case what’s appropriate. It will be labor intensive to do the right thing.”