Report: Future of Sonoma Developmental Center cloudy

An uncertain future awaits the Sonoma Developmental Center following the release of a draft report on the state’s developmental centers prepared by a task force of stakeholders.

The 40-page report makes clear that a declining population of severely disabled patients and a decade-long movement toward community placement spells significant change and probably closure of most of the four remaining developmental centers.

In 1968, the system of what were referred to as state hospitals housed 13,400 people in eight facilities. By November of this year, there were only 1,383 residents, 456 of whom lived at SDC.

And as the patient population shrinks, the cost of housing them in large centers keeps rising to unsustainable numbers. This year the average cost per resident in the DC system was close to $340,000. Next year it is expected to reach $400,000 per patient.

A moratorium in place against new admissions virtually guarantees that the declining numbers of residents in large facilities will eventually force closure.

How soon that comes is not addressed in the task force report but 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who attended the last Task Force meeting, said Monday she didn’t think it would be soon because the necessary infrastructure to move SDC residents into community care homes are not yet available.

Gorin added her concern that “The task force really has not heard what we’ve tried to say about the kinds of services available locally. A lot of residents at SDC have gone into residential facilities without success and then came back. We’ll be advocating for services to remain on site for specific patient groups.”

That view was echoed by Kathleen Miller, president of the Patient Hospital Association that advocates for the care and rights of SDC residents. “I can’t agree with all the recommendations of the task force. We were heard, but we were outnumbered.”

Miller said she is in the process of putting together a detailed response to the Task Force report and that, while she respects the process employed by Diana Dooley, California Health and Human Services Secretary, who directed the task force, “I can’t agree with all the recommendations of the task force.”

Miller, who has a son residing at SDC, has said repeatedly in the past that she does not believe community care facilities are adequate or appropriate for some SDC residents, including her son, who have behavioral and or medical issues that can’t be adequately addressed in a group home environment.

The Task Force submitted five specific recommendations, four of them for strategies addressing specific categories of care, including “enduring and complex medical needs,” “individuals with challenging behaviors and support needs,” “individuals involved in the criminal justice system,” and the need for all-inclusive programs for the elderly.

While the details of a final draft plan for downsizing the state’s developmental centers may still be months away, Dooley has yet to indicate a time frame for the final solution or a plan to address the thousands of staff members the developmental centers employ.

Staffing at SDC has been recently estimated at something in excess of 1,200, making it easily the largest employer in the Valley.

One reassuring message for those concerned about the future of developmental center property came in the fifth recommendation, that the state not simply declare DC property surplus and put it on the open market.

As its final recommendation, the report stated, “The Task Force generally agreed unused (current and prospective) state DC land should be leveraged to benefit consumers rather than being declared surplus. Members understood surplus land disposition is controlled by the State Constitution and sales revenue cannot be diverted to the developmental disabilities system. However, the property should be considered for future state-operated facilities and to develop community services, including the Health Resource Center and mixed use communities similar to Harbor Village in Costa Mesa.”