SDC fills long-vacant executive director post
Faria will lead troubled institution
After going largely rudderless for six months, with a string of temporary interim executive directors leading the troubled institution, the Sonoma Developmental Center finally has a new permanent executive director. Karen Faria, who previously served as SDC’s clinical director from 2000–05 before retiring, will assume the executive director position on April 1. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) announced the appointment this week, less than a month after naming the fourth exec director in less than a year at SDC.
Faria takes on a difficult task, leading a facility hobbled by scandal, mismanagement and institutional inertia. Her most immediate undertaking will be correcting deficiencies at SDC that cost it a portion of federal funding and threaten to cause its state license to operate and Medicaid certification to be revoked.
SDC had a rough year in 2012, one DDS would likely like to put behind it. And the search for a permanent executive director was made difficult by media and state scrutiny and a widely held perception that DDS, despite statements to the contrary, was planning to close SDC.
The first interim director, Karen Clark took the reigns of SDC in August after Jim Rogers, who had been executive director since 2005, resigned. Roger’s resignation came in the wake of a string of reports of staff abuses and an investigation into incidences of stun guns being used on patients, in which the FBI became involved. No charges were filed following that investigation, though a suspect, an SDC employee named Archie Millora who had a Taser and a loaded handgun concealed in his car, was arrested and charged with having a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor. Initial comments from DDS Director Terri Delgadillo indicated Rogers had been fired, though Rogers’ departure was later characterized as “retirement.”
In November, Patricia Flannery, who is deputy director for developmental centers at DDS, took over the interim director role. In the wake of serious sexual abuse allegations, SDC received a notice from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Dec. 12 that set a Jan. 4 deadline to correct major “deficiencies.” Soon after, DDS contracted with California Highway Patrol to oversee the Office of Protective Services (OPS), the in-house police force at state facilities, which had been widely accused of mishandling investigations into abuse, particularly at SDC.
In January, SDC withdrew four of the cited living units from consideration for federal certification, costing it $1.37 million a month. Since then SDC has worked to get the units, which continue to operate, raised to a level where they can be recertified. The recertification process will not begin until CDPH and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services agree that “systemic deficiencies” have been corrected.
In February Harold Pitchford, former executive director at both Agnews and Porterville Developmental Centers, assumed the interim executive director role.
Faria’s appointment to the permanent position represents the end of a long, nationwide search. The search for a permanent executive director was extended nationwide in January (a move that required a special exemption to look outside California).
“We have a challenge with our staffing today,” Flannery said then, speaking generally of the difficulty with filling vacancies at SDC. “We’ve certainly had some people say to us, after they’d gone through the clearance process, ‘With all the scrutiny, all the news media attention, I don’t think Sonoma’s the place for me to come today.’”
Faria, who retired from SDC in 2005, has more than 28 years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities. She started her career with DDS as a recreation therapist at SDC in 1985. Over the ensuing years at SDC, she served in a variety of capacities including standards compliance coordinator, clients’ rights advocate (interim), quality assurance program director and, finally, as clinical director from 2000–05. She also served as the community facilities director at Sierra Vista in Yuba City, which DSS closed in 2010 after a decade of operation. Faria will be reinstated to state employment at a yearly salary of $108,564. In 2011 Rogers had been paid a salary of $116,789 and Flannery $117,291.