SDC closure plan offers little room for compromise
The State of California intends to close Sonoma Developmental Center in the next two years and to reassign its remaining 350 or so residents to community-centered residences that do not yet exist. This is in spite of pleas by parents, guardians and a host of other concerned people who fear that the residents – the most severely disabled and behaviorally challenged people in the state system – will not receive the degree of care and oversight they have at Sonoma’s sprawling facility.
Under pressure by the Governor’s office to submit a closure plan to the California Legislature by Oct. 1, the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS) published a draft closure plan on Sept. 15, followed by a public hearing on Sept. 23.
“We cannot support the development of resources onsite concurrent with the closure process,” the DDS draft plan stated. Calls to build new or improve older residences to keep current residents on the campus will not be heeded. “Federal funding of services … and the aging infrastructure of the SDC campus are significant challenges to establishing homes and services on-site.”
The draft closure plan makes a wide range of promises to maintain some services onsite during the closure process, including temporary locked facilities for behaviorally challenged patients, and to help the existing 1,300 employees find jobs and relocate. It also says that “It is not the intention of the state to declare SDC’s property as surplus, but instead to work with the community to identify how the property can best be utilized.” This was perhaps the only well-received bit of information in the report.
Responses to the draft closure plan were swift and pointed, ranging from disappointment to outright anger.
Many individuals and groups have been urging the state to consider transforming the SDC from its institutional format to provide a number of homes and service providers on the grounds rather than ship the residents to as yet un-built homes scattered throughout the state with sketchy support services available.
“We have spent months crafting a set of recommendations that are focused on the best interests of the SDC residents, employees, and the broader community,” Supervisor Susan Gorin wrote on behalf of Transform SDC. “We hoped to see these recommendations reflected in the draft closure plan, and will continue to work with the State to make sure that our voices are heard.”
Gorin has represented the county in a coalition of groups called Transform SDC, striving to keep as many living units and service providers on site as possible. The group includes the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Parent Hospital Association and the Sonoma Land Trust, among others. Their goals are to see the existing residents made safe during the process, preserve the open space and enhance a natural wildlife corridor that the property provides.
“We need to start planning for the future now, and that means retaining permanent health care services on site, and not waiting until all the residents have been moved to begin developing a reuse strategy,” Sonoma Land Trust representative John McCaull added.
The SDC’s Parent Hospital Group (PHA) has been an active part of the SDC’s daily life for decades, representing parents, guardians and custodians of the residents, and actively involved in the day-to-day living arrangements of their charges.
“PHA is very disappointed that the Department of Developmental Services has chosen to ignore the united voice of the SDC residents, families, and the larger Sonoma community,” PHA President Kathleen Miller said. “The plan makes clear that their goal is to pursue a fast track to closure. The Department appears to have little interest in creating a safety net for those who continue to fail in community settings or to provide the full array of on-site health care services that our family members desperately need.”
Miller’s adult son has been a resident at SDC for many years. She has experienced failure of community settings to provide adequate care and fears for his well being if he is forced to move out of SDC.
While the eventual closure of SDC has been a given for the past five years or more, with new residents being barred by law as the state continues to move existing residents into community centered care facilities, in January the governor’s budget for 2015-2016 called for a closure, and in May required that a closure plan be submitted by Oct. 1.
The most recent Developmental Center to be closed was Lanterman, which housed many residents as severely disabled as those at SDC. The Lanterman Developmental Center’s Parent Coordinating Council wrote to State Senator Mike McGuire on Sept. 15, urging him to call for a moratorium on the SDC closure “until there is conclusive evidence that equal or better services are available for an SDC resident outside SDC.”
McGuire, along with Assemblyman Bill Dodd have both been working with the Transform SDC coalition to oversee the closure.
“We are incredibly disappointed with the draft plan that was put forward last week,” the pair wrote. “The report is inadequate and lacks the specific details that we as a community expected, and quite frankly, were led to believe would be delivered.
“We will be fighting for an ongoing medical and specialty hub on the SDC campus – including keeping dental and behavioral services in perpetuity – and will work with the department to review the possibility of a federally qualified health clinic and housing for residents on site. As suggested in the Governor’s Task Force on the future of the Developmental Centers, we will be pushing to transition the developmental center into a placement of last resort for those who may not do well in community placement,” McGuire and Dodd stated.
Meanwhile, Transform SDC will host a public forum on Oct. 17 with a workshop continuing a previous gathering last May 2 that accepted input from hundreds of people concerned with the future of the Developmental Center.
The event will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hanna Boys Center, 17000 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. For more information, visit transformsdc.com, susangorin.com, or call 526-6930, ext.137.