State Decertifies Its Largest Center for Developmentally Disabled

Thursday, December 13, 2012
(photo: Mike Kepka, San Francisco Chronicle)

Hundreds of patients with cerebral palsy, severe autism and mental retardation could be looking for a new home after the state’s Sonoma Developmental Center lost its primary license to operate Tuesday.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) decertified the 500-patient facility after a series of news stories, principally by California Watch, and government reports detailed a litany of transgressions over the years, including sexual abuse of patients.

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which has a budget of $4.5 billion, is appealing the decision, which could cost it millions of dollars in federal funds. The focus of the state’s action is on 300 intermediate care patients who are ambulatory. The other 200 patients are under skilled nursing supervision and are not included.

Most of the Sonoma center patients are incapable of living with families or in group homes. Sonoma is the state’s oldest developmentally disabled facility and had 3,500 patients in 1965. But a shift away from large institutions to smaller, more personal group homes has left the big facilities in limbo, under-funded and under-staffed.

Some of Sonoma’s patients have been there for 20 years.

In a written response at the DDS website, Director Terri Delgadillo acknowledged the “serious situation” and the center’s failure to meet state and federal standards of care. She noted that the center’s executive director and clinical director have been removed and that several employees have been disciplined or terminated. Delgadillo said the department agreed to develop a “performance improvement plan” with state and federal authorities and entered into an agreement with California Highway Patrol to oversee its own troubled Office of Protective Services.  

The 90-member office has been criticized for mishandling numerous cases of abuse, including 36 instances of sexual abuse since 2009 at California's five developmental centers in Los Angeles, Tulare, Riverside, Orange and Sonoma counties.

The facility will remain open during the appeal process.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Threatens to Shut Down Disability Center Amid Patient Abuse (by Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch)

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to Work with State, Federal Regulators to Address Sonoma Developmental Center Non-Compliance, ICF Decertification (Department of Developmental Services) (pdf)

A Broader Perspective on Abuse at SDC (by Kathleen Miller, president of the Parent Hospital Association at Sonoma Developmental Center, in Sonoma News op-ed)

Report Rips Troubled State Facility for Developmentally Disabled (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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