A Busy Fall for SDC Site Assessment and Community Engagement

October 2, 2017.

It’s been several months since we provided an update on the status of the closure and reuse planning process for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). As reported in May, the state Department of General Services has contracted with the San Francisco-based architectural and engineering firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) for a $2 million contract to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC property, which is scheduled for closure as a residential hospital by the end of 2018. Since their kick-off meeting in May, the WRT team has been hard at work examining the buildings, infrastructure, historical resources, and natural lands of SDC.  WRT expects to have the site assessment and “constraints analysis” completed in mid-December, and this fall signals the start of the community engagement phase of their work plan. Here is the lineup of meetings scheduled for the next few months:

September 28th and November 2nd:  Meetings of SDC Community Advisory Committee

The community advisory committee (see roster and agenda for 9/28/17 meeting) was created by the state to provide advice and feedback to WRT on the site assessment process. This committee has not been formed to start developing reuse ideas, but rather to make sure that key local stakeholders can comment on the preliminary site assessment findings, and their implication on opportunities and constraints for the SDC site. We will post a summary of the September 28th meeting and the background materials distributed by WRT on the blog site in the next week or so.

October 21:  SDC Town Hall Meeting at Altimira Middle School, Sonoma, CA

(Morning meeting, details and agenda pending)

Supervisor Susan Gorin and several of our state legislators are going to host a “town hall” style community forum on the current status of the SDC closure process, the state’s investment in a “safety net” for clients moving from SDC, and an update on the site assessment process. Supervisor Gorin is working closely with Senators Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd, and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry to develop the agenda, and as soon as it’s official, we will post more details on the blog site.

December 2: SDC Community Workshop hosted by WRT and State of California

(Afternoon meeting, details and agenda pending)

As a follow-up to the SDC Community Advisory Committee meetings (which are invite only and not open to the general public) WRT and state agency officials will be holding a community workshop on December 2nd to present the results of the site assessment and answer questions from the audience.  We don’t have an agenda or location for the meeting yet, but we will post that information on the blog site as soon as it becomes available. Please mark your calendars for the October 21st and December 2nd community meetings, and get ready for a busy fall and winter of SDC-related news and events.

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.

Bill Approved to Help Monitor Transitional Developmental Center Residents

September 26, 2016:

Senator Mike McGuire has spent the past two years working with the state and local officials, families, residents, staff and providers to ensure a safe and seamless transition for the nearly 400 medically fragile residents who call the Sonoma Developmental Center their home.

SB 982 will be an important tool to track a minimum of 250 residents for two consecutive years starting from the time they leave their developmental center. It will assure that the State is providing the services needed for residents to thrive within the community.

“This new tracking study will hold the state accountable and bring needed transparency to the transition process. We’re at a defining moment for our state as major changes are made to the system of care for California’s developmentally disabled residents,” Senator McGuire said. “We have to ensure that as Developmental Centers are slated for closure, we are closely monitoring the health and well-being of residents so that immediate steps can be taken during this transition if appropriate services and housing are not being provided.”

Read more at the link below.

Bill to help monitor transitional Developmental Center residents

Provided courtesy of the Eureka Times-Standard.

State and County Kick off Planning Efforts for the Future of SDC

August 2, 2016:

As reported in our last blog post of June 14th (State Budget Framework For Sonoma Developmental Center Closure Finalized):

DDS and the Legislature are very focused on how to expand and improve community services to absorb residents moving from SDC and other developmental centers that are closing in California. There have been no major breakthroughs yet in terms of an agreement for continuing services on site, but our state legislators, Supervisor Gorin, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Transform SDC Coalition will continue to push for the vision of a health resource center on the SDC campus.”

One of the arguments that DDS and the state have made against any planning for continued health care services on the SDC campus beyond the closure date of December 2018 is that the property’s infrastructure is degraded, and the state needs to conduct a full site assessment before even considering any specific reuse proposals.

Long-awaited funding for comprehensive planning has been approved, and we are about to enter a new much more active phase in the SDC closure process. The Transform SDC Coalition will be planning a Fall 2016 Workshop to prepare for the site assessment and reuse alternatives planning process. We will provide more information by the end of August.

State of California Seeking Consultants to Conduct SDC Site Assessment and Develop Reuse Alternatives

As part of the FY 2016-2017 budget signed into law by Governor Brown in June, the Department of General Services received $2.2 million to fund the preparation of a detailed site assessment for the property, and:

 “to create conceptual master land use and facilities reuse plan alternatives that will take into consideration physical, environmental, political and governmental factors that may impact the reuse of…SDC.”

On July 8th, the state Department of General Services issued a “Request for Qualifications” (RFQ) for licensed architectural and engineering firms to provide a scope of work and cost estimates for:

professional architectural, engineering, and master land use planning and consulting services…to develop conceptual master land use and facilities reuse plan alternatives for SDC.”

We have attached a copy of the RFQ at the bottom of this post. The deadline for firms to submit their Statement of Qualifications is September 7th. DGS will then interview a select number of applicants, and will hire a firm to start work in early 2017. One of the most important credentials for any firm that is hired is their ability to work with our local community to identify alternative reuse options for SDC that are consistent with the vision for the property. We are putting the word out to consulting firms that we have worked with—and that have worked on large-scale land use planning projects—to make sure they are aware of the opportunity. We welcome your feedback and ideas for good candidates as well!

What are the state’s goals for the future of SDC? Can the state hire a team of professionals who can lead an inclusive community planning effort for the future of SDC that achieves our stated vision for the property? It’s worth repeating the vision statement we developed through our community engagement process with all of you last year:

Create a public-private partnership driven by community ideas and values that  showcases the site’s history, maintains critical services for the developmentally disabled, provides opportunities for creative reuse of SDC’s assets, and preserves the natural resources and open space of the site.

There is reasons for hope that the state is very interested in working with the SDC Coalition and the County to develop a set of alternative uses for the property that are a positive outcome for the Valley, and for the entire region. The RFQ issued by the state says that:

“The purpose of the plans is to assist the state, County of Sonoma and stakeholders in identifying alternative reuse options for the SDC. The conceptual plans shall give consideration to alternatives that diversify and enhance the Sonoma Valley’s economy and establish models for sustainable development and economic self-sufficiency; preserve the distinct character of the Sonoma Valley’s rural communities and SDC’s natural, historical, and architectural integrity; and, protect SDC’s open space, valuable natural and scenic resources to support healthy wildlife populations, water resources, and recreational opportunities.”

Sonoma County Department of Health Services Issues Request for Proposals for Federally Qualified Health Center for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled Individuals.

The County of Sonoma has been an incredible partner over the past few years as we all have tried to grapple with the closure of SDC. The leadership of Susan Gorin has been matched by the skills and dedication of numerous county agencies that have put in hundreds of staff hours on this effort. The impact of the closure of SDC on Sonoma County is very significant. The economic disruption of the closure of SDC has yet to be felt, but the potential loss of over 1000 jobs and the success of placing over 300 current residents in community homes is a local and regional priority for County government.

Under the leadership of Director Stephan Betz, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services has adopted a proactive and visionary approach to the future of SDC. Making sure that the 300+ current residents end up in good living arrangements coupled with convenient and appropriate medical care is everyone’s top priority right now. But there is a larger opportunity: establishing a new regional health care facility for people with developmental challenges that is uniquely designed to serve their needs. In response to this need, the Department recently issued a Request for Proposals for a “Federally Qualified Health Center for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled Individuals.” The Department is soliciting proposals:

“from interested providers outlining their proposed approach to provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to former SDC residents, current clients of the North Bay Regional Center (NRBC) and other regional centers, as well as other intellectually and developmentally disabled (I/DD) individuals residing in Sonoma County and surrounding communities beginning in 2018.”

You are going to be hearing a lot about “FQHC’s” in the months to come, so get used to the acronym! FQHCs are outpatient clinics that qualify for specific reimbursement systems under Medicare and Medicaid. You may get your own out-patient health care at an existing Sonoma County FQHC such as the Santa Rosa or Sonoma Valley Community Health Centers. The County has a strong interest in developing partnerships with FQHCs as the SDC approaches closure to meet the needs of the former SDC residents, clients of regional centers and other individuals. Additionally, FQHCs are uniquely positioned to utilize enhanced Medi-Cal payments.

The deadline for submittals for the County’s RFQ process is August 26th. We will report back on what sort of applications the County receives, and next steps. The RFQ is also attached at the end of this post.

SDC Site Assessment RFQ July 2016

Sonoma County RFQ for FQHC Proposals July 2016

Regional Centers will take over from SDC

July 1, 2016:

An excerpt from a conversation with North Bay Regional Center Director Bob Hamilton:

From the day they learned that Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) was to be shuttered, the parents and loved ones of those who live there have been anguished over what will happen to their charges. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not expect SDC residents to receive the same level of care they have enjoyed at the 125-year-old institution situated on a thousand acres of lush Sonoma countryside outside of Glen Ellen.

“Some people think we are the devil,” Bob Hamilton said, smiling but semi-serious. Hamilton is executive director of the North Bay Regional Center, one of California’s 21 privately run regional centers responsible for administering care to the vast majority of developmentally disabled people in the state.

Hamilton, a Kenwood resident for many years, is past retirement age but continues to put in well over 40 hours a week doing his job, which he is passionate about.

“This is a joy, a labor of love. I would not do it otherwise.”

Read more at the link below.

Regional Centers will take over from SDC

Provided courtesy of The Kenwood Press, by Jay Gamel.

State Budget Framework for Sonoma Developmental Center Closure Finalized

June 14, 2016:

For the past several months, the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center has been a major topic of discussion in Sacramento as part of the state’s annual budget process. The state fiscal year runs from July 1st-June 30th, and the Legislature is set to vote this Wednesday on a $122 billion budget framework for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 that includes a number of important provisions related to the closure of SDC.

In October of last year, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) released their “Plan for the Closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center.” In order for the Plan to become effective, it requires Legislative approval. Since the Legislature returned in January, there have been numerous budget hearings and a special oversight hearing co-chaired by Senator Mike McGuire on the state’s plan to close SDC by the end of 2018. In addition to formal legislative hearings, DDS has also initiated a dialogue with the Transform SDC Coalition that has resulted in a series of facilitated conversations about key issues connected with the closure of the Center. Major topics of discussion include:

  • State staffing: How can SDC retain essential health care personnel over the next few years as the Center closes, and staff start to leave for either retirement or other job opportunities? Also, how can the state create financial incentives for SDC staff to transition to working in community care facilities where their expertise is needed?
  • Availability of adequate community care services: How are DDS and regional centers—California’s network of 21 independent, non-profit regional centers that coordinate services for California’s over 280,000 people with developmental disabilities—going to ensure that SDC residents leaving SDC will receive “appropriate services and support” as required by the Closure Plan? This includes housing suited to each person’s particular needs, and an array of specialized health care services.
  • Health Care Services on the SDC Site: Will DDS support retention or expansion of care services for people with developmental disabilities on the SDC campus after closure? Concepts include an integrated health care center providing outpatient services, an acute crisis clinic to help stabilize individuals who have reached a crisis point in their community setting due to severe behavioral and/or psychiatric conditions, and a “placement center of last resort” to provide housing for those individuals who simply cannot succeed in community care settings.
  • Site Planning: What are the state’s plans for SDC after closure? The Department of General Services (DGS) has requested $2.2 million in the FY 2016-2017 state budget for a site assessment (i.e. historical, architectural, environmental, engineering and economic) and to conduct “master planning” and an analysis of reuse alternatives for the property.

Federal Government Terminates ICF Funding

As we have known for many months, the state is committed to closing SDC by the end of 2018. One of the major reasons for the expedited closure timeline is the federal government’s termination of funding for SDC residential units that serve clients with intellectual and behavioral disabilities due to repeated findings of violations in care standards. Under threat of a complete withdrawal of federal funding for these “Intermediate Care Facility” (ICF) units, DDS entered into a settlement agreement last year with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that established the December 2018 closure date. Matters were made worse in February of this year when CMS found additional violations during inspection of care units. On May 13th, CMS announced a termination of federal financial support effective June 30, 2016, resulting in a loss of approximately $26 million in annual funding. In response to this withdrawal of funding, the Legislature approved an additional $32.4 million in General Fund expenditures to ensure continued operation of the ICF units.

Summary of State Budget and Policy Decisions

As part of the budget process, the Legislature develops “trailer bills” that contain specific funding and policy directives for different agencies. This year’s trailer bill that addresses SDC closure and DDS oversight of community care services is SB 834. In summary, the legislation will require the following:

  • Requires DDS to include an update as part of next year’s budget of how they will ensure access to crisis services after a DC closure, and how the state will maintain its role in providing residential services to those whom private sector vendors cannot or will not serve.
  • Requires DDS to post on its Web site a monthly progress report regarding the development of residential capacity by each regional center.
  • Requires DDS and DHCS to coordinate the transition of health care services for Medi-Cal eligible consumers transitioning from a DC.
  • Requires DDS to develop and implement a plan to monitor, evaluate, and improve the quality of community-based services through the use of a “performance dashboard.”  Requires DDS to work with stakeholders on the development of the dashboard.
  • Prohibits residential care homes from using physical restraints or containment for more than 15 consecutive minutes.
  • Requires regional center vendors that provide crisis or residential services to report on a monthly basis their use of seclusion, restraints and involuntary emergency medication to control a client’s behavior.
  • Authorizes DC employees to become regional center vendors prior to termination of their state employment with a goal of encouraging well-trained and experienced DC employees to become community service providers and assist with continuity of care.

What Happens Now?

At this point, DDS and the Legislature are very focused on how to expand and improve community services to absorb residents moving from SDC and other developmental centers that are closing in California. There have been no major breakthroughs yet in terms of an agreement for continuing services on site, but Supervisor Gorin, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Transform SDC Coalition will continue to push for the vision of a health resource center on the SDC campus (See April 14th blog post). The Northern STAR Acute Crisis Center will be funded for at least another year, so that provides some hope that we can work with the state to retain at least some health care services on the campus.

In addition, our facilitated dialogue with DDS will next take up the issue of a “placement center of last resort.” This concept was first acknowledged in the January 2014 DC Task Force Report issued by DDS and Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley. The Report stated that “there must be a “placement of last resort” for individuals with significantly challenging behaviors. Consumers in crisis must always have a place to go when in need.” We are pushing for SDC to be the location for this type of facility.

Finally, the Department of General Services (DGS) will be expanding their site assessment of the SDC campus starting in early 2017. They are currently funding a historical resource assessment of the SDC buildings, and a “Phase 1” environmental assessment that looks at potential hazardous and toxic materials located on the SDC property. DGS has informed us that they intend to issue a request for proposals to qualified consulting firms to conduct the comprehensive site assessment in late 2016, with a goal of having a firm under contract by early 2017. We will report more about the site assessment process in a future blog post.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about where things stand with SDC. You can email either Samantha Thomas (Samantha@sonomalandtrust.org) or John McCaull (johnm@sonomalandtrust.org) and we will be happy to get back to you with more information.



Sonoma Developmental Center losing millions in federal funding

May 26, 2016:

“The state is going to have to pick up the cost that was once being born by the feds, because we can’t jeopardize the livelihoods of residents just because the feds have decided to pull the plug on funding,” McGuire said.

The senator said the funding problems are not reason to hasten the facility’s closure. He called the current three-year timeline “hogwash,” saying it will take longer for the state to figure out how to care for some of the state’s most medically fragile people without comprising their well-being.

Please click on the link provided below to read more.

Sonoma Developmental Center losing millions in federal funding

Provided courtesy of The Press Democrat by Derek Moore.

California’s Last Developmental Centers

March 10, 2016:

The final countdown has begun for the last of three large state-run institutions that care for the severely disabled: In less than six years, almost all of their residents are likely to be transferred to other settings.

It’s the end of a long era in providing care to people in large institutional settings.

The public comment period ended last week on a plan to move 776 patients currently housed at the three development centers into smaller community-based homes. The state expects the move to save it roughly $250 million a year.

Please click on the link provided below to read more of this article.

California’s Last Institutions for Developmentally Disabled to be Closed

Provided courtesy of KQED News website, by David Gorn at California Healthline.
This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Overview of McGuire’s Hearing

March 1, 2016:

Last Tuesday, McGuire’s joint hearing consisted of a lot of questions directed towards state health administrators. It was heard from the major participants who have been involved with this developing topic on the uncertain future of the most fragile and at-risk, developmentally disabled people at the remaining DCs of Sonoma, Fairview and Porterville.

Some of the key topics that came up were:

  • Not enough time or money for transition
  • Community care homes not ready
  • Special services needed for severely disabled

Please click on the article provided below for a better understanding of the hearing.

SDC closure status raises more questions than answers

Provided courtesy of The Kenwood Press, by Jay Gamel.

Agenda and Detailed Background Report Released for Senate Oversight Hearing on Closure of Remaining Developmental Centers

February 22, 2016:

The Senate Human Services Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services will conduct an oversight hearing tomorrow at 1:30 pm on the proposed closure of California’s remaining developmental centers and the “Impact on Residents, Families and the Regional Center System.” The Committees have released a thorough background paper and agenda for the hearing which we have attached to this post. If you are interested in tuning in remotely, you can watch a live video stream or listen to an audio stream of the hearing. Just go to: http://senate.ca.gov/calendar and scroll down to the hearing and click “Watch” or “Listen.”

Various representatives from the Transform SDC Project will be attending the hearing, and we will provide a full summary later this week.

DC Closure Oversight Hearing Agenda

DC Closure Oversight Hearing Background Paper

A Pledge to the Community: Transform SDC Project Prepares Advocacy Strategy for 2016

December 23, 2015:

The Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) has touched so many lives. A mention of SDC invariably prompts a story of how this incredible facility has been a source of inspiration to our community for generations. 2015 has undoubtedly been a very challenging year for the residents, staff and families of SDC. The state’s announcement in May that they intend to close the Center by the end of 2018 is a life changing decision that will impact hundreds of families and SDC employees. As the Center readies for its 125 year anniversary in 2016, there are many who wonder what the future will bring.

When we publicly launched the Transform SDC Project in early 2015, we did not anticipate the pending closure announcement in May. Based on a January 2014 Report issued by the California Department of Health and Human Services, we knew that the state intended to “transition” away from being the operator of historically large residential living facilities for people with developmental disabilities. When the federal government rejected the state’s appeal of a decision to decertify seven patient units at SDC and strip their Medicaid funding over findings that care for hundreds of disabled patients was deficient, the closure process was put on the fast track. The 2018 closure timeline was formalized in a July settlement agreement between the State of California and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the state subsequently submitted a draft closure plan to the California Legislature in October. If you need a refresher for what is in the closure plan vis-à-vis community input, please review the comparison chart on our blog site.

The closure plan makes a commitment that the state will “work with the SDC Coalition, Sonoma County and other interested parties to identify potential options for the future use of the SDC campus… and to explore future services that could perhaps be provided at SDC.” This is a promising opening on the part of the state, but there are some critical, unresolved issues that need detailed answers:

  • What existing health care operations will continue past closure?
  • What new health care programs is the state willing to consider and possibly implement concurrent with the closure process?
  • What is the mechanism (both interim and permanent) to protect the open space and natural resource lands of SDC?
  • What is the state’s role in the formation of an SDC Advisory Council and a potential “trust” organization to govern the transformation/reuse process after closure?
  • What strategy will ensure the long-term financial sustainability of a transformed SDC?

As we prepare for 2016, the first order of business is the Legislature’s consideration and approval of the draft closure plan. The plan is not “official” until endorsed by the Legislature, and this will likely happen as part of the approval process for the 2016-2017 state budget. The Legislature reconvenes in early January, and our local coalition will be working closely with our state elected officials to develop a cohesive, unified set of priorities that will guide our advocacy and community organizing. Expect to see a summary of our advocacy strategy in early January.

It’s been a tough year, but the Sonoma Land Trust is committed to continuing the Transform SDC Project in close coordination with our many partners. The Project Steering Committee is made up of Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, Kathleen Miller of the Parent Hospital Association, Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center, and John McCaull from Sonoma Land Trust. There are many community groups and individuals too numerous to mention who have volunteered, attended and testified at hearings and educated their friends, families and community about the importance of SDC. We are all stronger together, and please know that the support of each and every one of you is making a difference.

Finally, we would like to give some special thanks during this holiday season. The Transform SDC Project would not exist without the generous financial support of Impact100 Sonoma, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Resources Legacy Fund, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, Sonoma County Regional Parks Department, the Sonoma County Water Agency, and several donors from the community who have made major gifts to the Sonoma Land Trust on behalf of our Project. The Parent Hospital Association has also made significant contributions from its internal budget to the overall effort. With this funding, we have been able to retain the services of the following top-notch professionals and consulting firms:

  • Baseline Consulting
  • Center for Collaborative Policy
  • Conservation Strategy Group
  • Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Potrero Group
  • Prunuske Chatham, Inc.
  • Tom Origer & Associates
  • UC Berkeley- Hopland Research and Extension Center (Adina Merenlander and Morgan Gray)
  • Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger

Happy Holidays to all of you, and we will be back strong in the New Year!

John McCaull                                                                                         Samantha Thomas
Land Acquisition Program Manager                                                 Community Planning Coordinator
Sonoma Land Trust                                                                                  Sonoma Land Trust