Pull back veil on SDC
Recent revelations about a rogue caregiver at the Sonoma Developmental Center, who used a Taser on severely disabled patients, raise questions not only about the competency and policies of the center’s police force, but about what appears to be the relentlessly secretive agenda of the state Department of Developmental Services.
Both the executive director and the clinical director of SDC were relieved of duty by DDS in recent months without announcement or explanation. Advocates for developmentally disabled patients insist the state has plans to close the facility but refuses to talk about them.
It has been the experience of this newspaper for years that inquiries directed to SDC and DDS about employee numbers, staffing issues, neglect or abuse of patients and the larger issue of how and when the facility may be closed by the state, are routinely ignored.
State figures showed a June patient population at SDC of 531, less than half the nearly 1,200 residents being treated and cared for in 1994. Historic population figures have been reported as high as 3,500.
Programs for patients, meanwhile, have been declining in tandem with the drop in state budget revenues. The adult services program, which provided classes for SDC patients, has been terminated because the Sonoma County Office of Education lost state funding. The program provided a wide variety of classes addressing mobility access, communication, sensory motor stimulation, recreation and leisure pursuits and community-based activities.? Members of the facility’s Parent Hospital Association, representing parents and guardians of SDC patients, assert that their communications with the state suggest an unspoken agenda to close the facility when it falls below either 500 or 400 patients – reports vary.
Meanwhile, driven by the seemingly endless state budget crisis, DDS has reportedly placed a moratorium on placement into any of the state’s five developmental centers, relying instead on expansion of the community group homes supervised by a system of 21 regional centers.
Redistribution of patients into smaller residential facilities makes good sense in many cases and, we would argue, much less sense in others. For severely disabled patients, like many of those at SDC, group homes lack the level and availability of medical care and can put patients at greater risk.
Be that as it may, we believe it is long since time for the veil of secrecy shrouding SDC to be lifted, and for the state to come forward with a transparent discussion of patient and staffing statistics that sheds light on future plans for the property.
We don’t know how many people SDC currently employs, but the patient level suggests it has to be more than 1,000. The property itself, originally encompassing some 1,700 acres and now conjoined in part with Jack London State Historic Park, is one of the most valuable and scenic sites in the Sonoma Valley.
What happens to it, and the people who work there, is an issue demanding public attention.