By Bill Schang

The purpose of this column is two-fold: First, it is a fervent plea to keep the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) open, and second, it is a request to again allow SDC to accept new admissions.

As a 15-year volunteer at SDC, my opinions are more than educated ones, but rather more factual. SDC has provided essential services for those with developmental problems for more than 100 years. The need for these services is greater now than ever.

The solution offered by those proposing closure of SDC is to move residents into group homes. The concept is good, but the reality is bad. For many, after all, this is the only home they’ve ever known.

These folks, by accident, are different, and not so fortunate as you and I. And what happens to the severely disabled that group homes cannot handle? They could end up in hospitals or nursing homes, where they do not belong. The expense would be even greater than at SDC.

Group homes cannot provide the highly trained professionals, nor the facilities or equipment available at SDC. Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists and physical therapists are available at all times to the people who live at SDC, whereas, in the community, there are long waiting lists, and specialists are not always available.

Other staff at SDC are certified in a wide range of therapeutic techniques, including music and recreation therapy and special education. They all are well-trained to do this every specialized kind of work.

Over the years, I have observed these people with wonder and enormous admiration. They are compassionate, loving, caring and patient beyond compare, warm and good-humored whatever the difficult situation. Residents are treated with dignity and respect and, above all, as worthwhile human beings. The staff constantly performs above and beyond the call of duty, and when emergencies arise, time clocks are completely ignored.

Detractors say residents are mistreated. This is unjust and unfair. Statistics show that infractions are rare and when discovered are corrected immediately.

It is equally unjust that those with the power to shutdown this unique, high-functioning facility, have probably never seen it, nor ever been involved with people with special needs.

The residents and staff are not numbers on a balance sheet, nor cancers on a budget. Please don’t solve your budget problems on the backs of these needy folks.

Instead of closing SDC, it should be considered a shining example to be proud of. Sonoma and the state are fortunate to have such an organization. Make the honorable and moral decision to keep this vital and crucial place up and running. It would be cruel not to.

Keeping SDC open is the right thing to do. It deserves your endorsement and approval, and so many fragile and deserving souls would thank you for it.

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  Bill Schang is a resident of Sonoma and a longtime volunteer at the Sonoma Developmental Center.