State’s Developmental Services Director Announces Resignation from Beleaguered Agency

Thursday, August 29, 2013
Terri Delgadillo

After seven years as director of the troubled state Department of Developmental Services, Therese "Terri" Delgadillo announced that she will be stepping down for health reasons at the end of the year.

The department she heads has received an onslaught of criticism this past year for its stewardship of the state’s five board-and-care institutions, where 1,500 patients with developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism, are cared for. Delgadillo oversees a $4 billion+ budget.

A scathing report (pdf) in July from the California State Auditor said the department’s in-house police force, called the Office of Protective Services (OPS), was underfunded, ill-prepared and did a lousy job. The auditor noted that many of the 28 specific recommendations cited in a critical 2002 report from the California Attorney General had gone unattended to, putting patients, employees and visitors at risk. 

The department received 4,345 allegations of patient abuse the past five years, the auditor said. Not only could OPS not solve crimes, it couldn’t establish cases strong enough for prosecutors to pursue. After OPS got through with the cases, only 82 were deemed strong enough to send to prosecutors.

The auditor found that health care staff members didn’t always let OPS know about an incident in a timely fashion, and that once informed, “law enforcement personnel did not consistently follow established procedures for investigations of alleged resident abuse. Specifically, OPS often failed to collect written declarations from suspects and witnesses, take photographs of crime scenes or alleged victims, and attempt to interview alleged victims, particularly residents said to be nonverbal.”

There were plenty of reasons given for the lapses, chief among them a 43% officer vacancy rate. The officers are also paid less than other local law enforcement, are asked to work a lot of overtime, have miserable working conditions and aren’t receiving special training required to do their job.

California Watch and reporter Ryan Gabrielson were a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series of stories documenting the horrors at the developmental centers. Gabrielson wrote about dozens of women who were sexually assaulted inside the state’s five regional centers, a caregiver suspected of tasering a dozen patients and other incidents that were barely investigated by OPS.

Problems at the centers are so bad that the Sonoma Developmental Center was stripped of its license to operate last December.

Delgadillo was originally appointed to her position by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 and was reappointed to the post by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011. After graduating from California State University, Sacramento, with a master’s degree in social work, she was a peace officer at the California Youth Authority. She was chief of the legislative division at the Governor's Office of Criminal Justice Planning from 1982 to 1986.

Delgadillo, a Republican, was state Senator John F. Seymour’s chief legislative consultant for the state Senate Select Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse from 1986 to 1991. She briefly followed Seymour to Washington when he was appointed to a vacant senate seat by Governor Pete Wilson, then worked for Georgia Senator Paul D. Coverdell from 1992 to 1997.

She returned to California in 1997 as acting undersecretary and deputy secretary in the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. From 2000 to 2004, Delgadillo served as deputy director of health and bioterrorism policy and deputy director of legislative and governmental affairs for the state Department of Health Services. She moved to the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) and served as deputy secretary of program and fiscal affairs at the state from 2004 to 2006.

A task force formed by HHSA Secretary Diana Dooley, of which Delgadillo is a member, is expected to present its recommendations to improve the developmental centers by November 15.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Head of California’s Troubled Developmental Services Agency to Retire (by Ryan Gabrielson, Center for Investigative Reporting)

11 Years Later, Disabled Patients Still at Risk in Underfunded Developmental Centers (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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