Legislature and Governor Make New Investment in “Safety Net” for Developmental Center Population

July 18, 2017.  One of the most frequently asked questions about the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is what will happen to the people who have lived there as “clients” once SDC closes at the end of next year? As of June 2017, there were still 261 people living at SDC, which has served as a residential hospital for over 125 years for people with severe physical and behavioral disabilities.  Since the closure announcement in May 2015, 189 people have been moved from SDC into community-based settings. At this pace of moving 10-20 people per month, the State of California would appear to be on track to meet Governor Brown’s goal of closing SDC by December 2018.

With the passage of California’s 2017-2018 state budget last month, it is becoming clearer how the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is approaching the daunting task of integrating hundreds of people living on state-run developmental centers into the “community-based services” system. SDC and two other developmental centers will be closed by 2020. This means adding an additional 1000 people into a very expensive and specialized health care system for California’s estimated population of nearly 300,000 people with developmental disabilities.

What makes this particularly challenging is not necessarily just the number of people from SDC who will need new homes, doctors, medical equipment, day programs, and psychological and counseling services, but the fact that the residents of SDC and other centers have some of the most challenging health and special care needs. Many of the families with loved ones who have lived at SDC fear that the level of care will diminish or simply not be available in the system that has been set up to provide “both in-home services and supports so that more individuals could be cared for at home, as well as facilities that provided community residential options.”

Because of the tireless advocacy of the Parent Hospital Association (PHA), Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, and our state legislative representatives, we have been able to make progress in ensuring that an actual “safety net” will be in place for people who are moved off of SDC. This includes primary care medical services in a clinic in Santa Rosa, new housing opportunities, and crisis/acute care services for people who are struggling in their living situation, with their medications and health, or with behavioral and mental health problems.

In 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley commissioned the “Developmental Services Task Force”(DS Task Force) to come up with recommendations on how the state could improve its overall community-based care system for people with developmental disabilities. The “Task Force” has worked for two years to better understand gaps of care in the system, and the implications of adding all the people from the developmental centers that are closing. They have now released a report entitled “Developmental Services Task Force: Examination of Opportunities to Strengthen the Community-Based Services System (Draft July 2017)” with recommendations in the following areas:

  • Service Rates and the Rate-Setting Structure
  • Regional Center, Provider and Other Community Services
  • Employment and Higher Education Opportunities
  • Medical, Dental, Mental Health and Durable Medical Equipment
  •  Housing

Coupled with over $21 million in new state funding for “safety net services”, there is reason to hope that the state will invest what is needed to make sure that those who have called SDC home for years will be well-cared for in their new communities.  For more information on the overall strategy, read the May 2017 “Plan for Crisis and Other Safety Net Services in the California Developmental Services System” which “proposes new service options to broaden the continuum of service options to support individuals with the most challenging service needs.”  

The Transform SDC Blog site was set up in 2014 to provide the Sonoma Valley community — and those interested in the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) — a forum and information source for news related to the closure of SDC.  For more information, please post a response on the blog site, or email John McCaull at johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

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