Report Rips Troubled State Facility for Developmentally Disabled

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Two residents at Sonoma Developmental Center are escorted down the hall.

The state’s largest facility for the developmentally disabled, Sonoma Developmental Center, is feeling the heat from federal authorities to upgrade the care of its 500 patients or face decertification, according to California Watch, which obtained a 495-page government report.

The center receives about half of its $160 million budget via Medi-Cal, which is California’s version of federal Medicaid.

The report from the California Department of Public Health said: “Individuals have been abused, neglected, and otherwise mistreated and the facility has not taken steps to protect individuals and prevent reoccurrence. Individuals were subjected to the use of drugs or restraints without justification. Individual freedoms have been denied or restricted without justification.”

California Watch has written more than 30 stories this year about the state’s troubled centers for the developmentally disabled, the Sonoma facility being most prominent among them. It has catalogued a series of incidents, including patient mistreatment and inadequate supervision.  

Sonoma is the oldest such facility in the state and had as many as 3,500 residents in 1965. Some residents have been at Sonoma for more than 50 years, and many have been there 20 years or longer.

The state has steadily moved away from large institutions to smaller, more personal group homes since the passage of legislation in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Four of nine large facilities have closed since then. Budget cuts and shifting priorities do not bode well for the institution’s future.

The center took a $1.3 million budget hit on June 30 that resulted in the end of an adult education program, contracted through the Sonoma County Office of Education, that had been around for 21 years. More than 40 part-time recreation employees received pink slips.

“We were not expecting to close this program,” Sonoma County Superintendent Steve Herrington told the Community Voice. “Laying off this number of employees is difficult, but the real tragedy is that center residents will no longer have the daily personal contact and positive support that our program provides.”

Residents receive four hours of daily recreation, mandated by state law, and the classes were a big part of their day.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Report Slams State Institution for Neglect, Abuse, Weak Oversight (by Ryan Gabrielson, The Bay Citizen)

Lack of Money Ends Program at Sonoma Developmental Center (The Community Voice)

Budget Cuts Might Mean Big Layoffs at the Sonoma Developmental Center (by Alexis Fitts, Sonoma Patch)

Legislators Hear SDC Concerns (by Jay Gamel, Kenwood Press)

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