Shocking abuse at SDC
California has approximately 1,700 developmentally disabled patients housed in five campus centers with a combined annual budget of $550 million.
That translates into about $320,000 per-patient, per-year – a staggering sum.
Something under 550 of those patients are currently housed at the Sonoma Developmental Center at Eldridge, just outside Glen Ellen, in the first, largest and most bucolic such facility created in the state, a scenic and serene country campus that once totaled more than 1,700 acres.
That population has been in steady decline for decades, and it has plummeted in the past 20 years, dropping from close to 1,200 patients in 1994 to 531 patients in June of this year.
As a business model, SDC may not make much sense. As a residential model it is a dream.
But as revealed by Ryan Gabrielson’s shocking story in the California Report this week (see A1), and as chronicled over the years by the Index-Tribune, the dream campus is not immune to nightmares and abuse can occur even among the most vulnerable.
Caring for developmentally disabled patients is demanding work, requiring patience, professional training, compassion and a high staff-to-patient ratio. Not everyone employed in such work is qualified – by temperament or training – to do so. Witness the alleged behavior by the Taser-wielding psyche tech exposed by Gabrielson’s story.
But if you talk to the parents and guardians of some of those 531 SDC patients, three compelling impressions emerge. First, they treasure the opportunity to have their loved-ones housed in such a scenic, secure, generally caring and geographically convenient facility. Second, they are concerned that the quality of care has begun to decline as staff levels drop. And third, they fear that the state has an unspoken agenda to shrink the patient population until the vast, and admittedly expensive, facility is forced to close.
If there is one word most often uttered by parents to describe the communication they receive from the state’s Department of Developmental Services, it is “secretive.” They are told little, they say, about what goes on behind the scenes or within the offices of DDS authorities.
They are, however, informed as a matter of strict policy when their family members are the victims of abusive “incidents.” Parents therefore knew almost immediately when the accused caregiver assaulted 12 SDC patients with a Taser. According to one parent, patient’s families were told about the incidents and were informed that an investigation was underway by an outside agency and that the accused assailant was gone.
But the employee accused of Tasing the severely disabled patients has not been charged with a crime, even though SDC police found a Taser and a loaded Glock handgun under the front seat of his car, a violation of the state’s concealed weapons law.
While an act of aberrant abuse should not be construed as typical behavior by the center’s over-worked staff, the failure of the on-site police force to properly report it is baffling, unconscionable and raises troubling questions about DDS management and leadership, as well as the competency and integrity of the SDC police.