Medicare funds reinstated at SDC but rocky road ahead
The Sonoma Developmental Center received a rare bit of good news this week. On July 1, the state Department of Developmental Services announced that Medicare funding from the federal government – revoked in late 2014 when several residential units at SDC were found to be in violation of federal standards and requirements – had been re-instated through June 30, 2016, with the possibility of further extensions until the facility closes at the end of 2018.
The agreement, reached on June 30, essentially means that payments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to SDC will continue for at least another year. The funding, which had been continued throughout the appeal, remains dependant upon SDC’s ability to fulfill conditions on client safety and health, staff training, and the reporting and investigation of all incidents.
That 2018 closure date, however, remains a sore subject for many stakeholders of the developmental center – those who are dismayed by the accelerated schedule for shuttering the 120-year-old facility.
“I continue to be very concerned about the short timeline for closure,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, in whose district SDC is located. “This puts our residents at risk as they transition to properties that are hastily assembled and developed without supporting services and infrastructure in the community.”
Supervisor Gorin, head of the ad-hoc Sonoma Developmental Center Coalition, alluded to recent ?conversations with Department of Developmental Services director Diane Dooley which suggested the loss of federal funding “is what was driving the rapid timeline for the closure” of SDC, a point of view that could not be confirmed by the DDS.
Whether or not this loosening of the federal purse strings might delay the Eldridge facility’s shutdown remains to be seen, though Gorin noted that the closure timeline for Agnews Developmental Center was extended a couple times. Agnews, located in Santa Clara, was finally closed in 2009, though the west campus of the facility was closed and sold to Sun Microsystems (now owned by Oracle) in 1998.
According to DDS assistant director of communications Nancy Lungren, the department can foresee no change in its Oct. 1 deadline for developing and submitting a closure plan to the Legislature. That plan must include a slew of information about the developmental center’s purpose and condition, its residents and their disabilities, plans for their continued care, plus “local issues, concerns, and recommendations regarding the proposed closure and alternative uses of the developmental center property.”
Many of those family and local concerns were raised last Saturday, June 27, at an informal four-hour meeting on the SDC campus with almost 20 representatives from Developmental Services and several regional centers, who would take up the slack in placing the current residents of SDC when it is eventually shut down.
And judging by the confusion over that meeting’s purpose, and its content, the road ahead could be a rocky one.
One after another, family members, guardians and conservators of SDC residents rose to complain about uncertainties over where their loved ones would end up, what quality of care they might receive under such a time-pressured transition, and questioned the state’s long-term commitment to the developmentally disabled, despite the $49 million budgeted this year to the transition.
“What about next year, and the year after that?” was an oft-repeated concern.
Absent from the near-full Wagner Hall meeting room at SDC, were board members from the Parents Hospital Association (PHA), the group of parent-guardian advocates who typically play an active role as spokespersons for SDC residents. One speaker suggested the PHA board was boycotting the meeting; however there were apparently several members present, and PHA’s president Kathleen Miller denied there was a group decision on the meeting.
“Most of us just chose not to attend, it was more of a personal choice,” said Miller. Her reasoning was that the meeting – called by Developmental Services director Santi Rogers a month earlier – was non-essential. “I still don’t know what the purpose of the meeting was,” Miller said. “Maybe they just wanted to tell families that everything would be fine, but I personally am not ready to receive that message. I need much more specificity, and I think that’s the case with most of the families.”
According to Lungren, “The purpose of Saturday’s meeting was an initial information session where the parents, guardians and conservators could have access to DDS, SDC and RC staff, (who would) field questions and hear their concerns since SB 82 budget bill was signed” by Gov. Brown on June 24, outlining the closure plan for the Sonoma Developmental Center.