Editorial: Closing SDC will be no easy move for residents

Closing SDC will be no easy move for residents|

There are about 400 reasons why the state’s plan to close the Sonoma Developmental Center within three years is unfortunate. Those reasons aren’t “reasons” at all, in fact, they’re people.

The Developmental Center’s more than 400 residents will, if the state Department of Developmental Service’s timeline holds true (a big if), by 2018 have had to transition to “community living facilities,” where they would ostensibly receive their much-needed life assistance in settings more integrated into traditional communities.

While news of a more firm date for closure just broke last week, the handwriting’s been on the wall for years, as developmental centers have been hammered (justly so) for occasional abuses and neglect – SDC not withstanding – and a recent Department of Public Health report found state-run developmental centers directly to blame for the deaths of 13 residents since 2002. It’s far from a spotless record.

Talks of the future of the SDC campus have been the subject of weekend workshops; legislation has been introduced to defund SDC, as well as a similar center in Fairview. Many intriguing ideas have surfaced about the wonderful possibilities of its 950-acre property in a post-developmental center era – a college campus, a wildlife corridor, a mixed-use facility similar to the Presidio. It all sounds very exciting.

Less so for the current residents at SDC.

More has been said about what happens to the SDC grounds than its residents. But that’s no big mystery: it’ll be similar to what became of the residents from other developmental centers that have closed in recent years. For the most part, they’ll be transferred to smaller state-run group homes or receive home-based services. It’s far lighter on the state’s wallet than to operate vast developmental estates, employing a thousand-plus workers.

Here’s another component that may be far lower when the SDC closes – the services to its developmentally challenged former residents. According to a source for the LA Times, which covered the shuttering of Pomona’s Lanterman Development Center in 2010, as much as 80 percent of services can be lost when residents are transitioned into community settings.

While closure has seemed imminent for some time, the idea of more gradual “transition” seems more palatable – and perhaps there’s hope for that. One suggestion would be that small group homes remain at SDC’s Eldridge campus, where services for the more severely needy residents is already in place and could continue without interruption.

But make no mistake about it, the age of developmental centers is over. Vast institutions for society’s physical, emotional and developmental outliers are a 19th century paradigm – updated in the mid 20th century when scientific advancements in quality of treatment was a more urgent quality of life concern than social integration.

Well, now it’s social integration’s turn. And that’s not a bad thing; the modern line of thinking by those who’ve dedicated their lives to improving the lives of those on the developmentally disabled spectrum is that they respond far better to social interaction than previously understood. Developmental centers are closing all across the country as the social-integration model has become the accepted norm.

But let’s not pretend the residents will all adjust smoothly and happily to new homes.

Former SDC physician, Dr. Van Pena, is no fan of the past management of the developmental center, having two years ago settled a retaliation suit against the center for $1.3 million – after accusing SDC of firing him for reporting patient abuse. He told the Index-Tribune in 2013 that the potential for patient abuse is a reality at any facility caring for such a voiceless community. And yet Pena also slammed the idea of closing SDC, and foretold dire circumstances for many residents if that day came to pass.

That day, according to the State of California, is at the end of 2018. It’s up to the state, and everyone else, to make sure Pena’s prediction proves false.

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