Behind closed doors at SDC
A look at the state facility's population
SONOMA DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER is home to about 517 residents.
The Sonoma Developmental Center has been slowly going dark over decades. There are 141 buildings in total on the approximately 1,000-acre campus; of those, 29 – in various states of disuse, disrepair and neglect – are not in operation. Many of these are significant, including the cavernous historic old administration building sitting at the end of the palm tree-lined main driveway behind the flapping flags of both California and the United States.
All hands are presumably on deck, as the staff rushes to comply with a notice from the California Department of Public Health received on Dec. 12 that set a Jan. 4 deadline to correct major “deficiencies” at SDC. Should they fail to bring the facility into compliance, SDC stands to lose $117,000 a day in federal funding starting Jan. 4.
When asked in person for further details on SDC’s plans to reform the facility, Jorge “J.J.” Fernandez, assistant to the executive director of SDC, curtly referred all inquiries to a Department of Developmental Services spokesperson in Sacramento and walked away.
The resident population at SDC has dropped precipitously in the last 15 years, falling from more than 1,000 in 1996. At last count, SDC had 517 residents (Department of Developmental Services usually refers to them as “clients”). The last complete demographic breakdown of SDC’s population DDS could provide, from September 2012, counted a total of 523 residents (by Nov. 28 that number was down to 517), with 221 females and 302 males.
The residences house an aging population – 63 percent are over the age of 52, with 207 between 52 and 61 years of age and 119 older than that, according to the September report; 117 were 42- to 51-years-old, 58 were 32- to 41-years-old, 20 were between 22 and 31 years of age, and two were 18 to 21.
All of the 523 clients at SDC were considered to have intellectual disabilities, with many diagnosed with multiple disabilities: 113 were diagnosed with autism, 300 with cerebral palsy, 290 with epilepsy, and 19 had “other” disabilities.
This is in line with a changing population in the DDS system as a whole, which also includes centers in Canyon Springs, Fairview, Porterville and Pomona (Lanterman, which is scheduled for closure). According to a DDS report, over the past few years, system-wide, “there has been a growth in the percentage of individuals with increased risk factors including persons with severe behaviors, autism, dual diagnosis (developmental disability and mental health condition), and vision and hearing deficits.”
The SDC currently employs 1,400 people to run the center and care for its clients. Of those 1,400 personnel, about 41 percent are level-of-care professionals and nursing staff. The other 59 percent does include some direct-care staff, but they are not designated level-of-care professionals or nurses, as well administration and maintenance. The center also has its own police force, fire department and sanitation service.