Mapping the future of SDC
A newspaper is, among other things, a business, a community service and a public trust.
It must make money to survive.
It must serve the information and entertainment needs of its community to be relevant and read.
And it must recognize the critical role it plays in a democratic society by presenting fair, balanced and carefully researched articles illuminating the critical issues of the day.
Index-Tribune coverage of the unfolding events at the Sonoma Developmental Center reflect the convergence of those core functions. SDC’s impact on the local economy, and its payroll for some 1,400 employees, affects all of us, including this newspaper. The 122-year-old center has been both the Valley’s largest employer and one of its most scenic and significant properties, covering, at one time, well over 1,000 acres and stretching from the Valley floor to the top of Sonoma Mountain.
It remains the largest facility for developmentally disabled patients in California, even while its population plummets from more than 1,000 residents less than a decade ago, to half that today.
It has been periodically wracked by scandal, cover-ups and numerous reports of both abuse and indifferent or incompetent attempts to investigate them.
Simultaneously, SDC has provided the state’s most vulnerable and invisible population with ongoing, sympathetic and loving care, delivered by a corps of caring staff members who were (and are) often over-worked, under-paid and sometimes poorly-trained.
Depending on where you stand on the continuum of interest focused on SDC, our coverage has been exemplary, sensationalistic, one-sided or just excessive.
What has been missing in that coverage, more often than not, is the voices of people who work there, and the stories of people who live there.
Over and over again, SDC employees have refused to talk to us on the record because, they routinely report, it would cost them their jobs.
And because the same climate of non-disclosure – readily defended by HIPPA privacy rules – has constrained our ability to tell the stories of residents inside the center, neither we nor the general public have a clear understanding of life on that bucolic campus.
We hope to change that climate and enlarge the story, in part by co-hosting a public forum Wednesday, Jan. 30, to explore the future of SDC. We hope to discuss both its problems, and the exceptional level of care it still provides, to learn more about the improvements needed to bring it into compliance with federal standards of care, and to map – to whatever extent possible – its future uses when, and if, its steadily declining population results in closure.
Partnered with the Center for Investigative Reporting/California Watch – which has done ground-breaking reporting on the deficiencies at SDC and throughout the state’s developmental services bureaucracy – we will be presenting a panel of experts and an opportunity for the public to participate in a conversation about SDC’s past, present and future.
The event will be held at Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center, 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will be free and open to the public, but space is limited so registration is required by going to calwatchsonoma.eventbrite.com.
We hope to see you there.