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Major changes eyed for Sonoma Developmental Center

  • 6/3/2013: A1:

    PC: Kathleen Miller, and her son Dan Smith who lives at the Sonoma Developmental Center, background, Friday May 31, 2013 near Glen Ellen. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

SACRAMENTO — The Sonoma Developmental Center, which provides housing and medical care for nearly 500 severely disabled clients and is Sonoma Valley's largest employer, would be downsized dramatically under a state task force's recommendations unveiled Friday in Sacramento.

The state's four remaining developmental centers, which collectively serve 1,383 residents, would no longer operate as around-the-clock care facilities under the recommendations. Instead, the state would focus its attention and resources on smaller, crisis-intervention facilities, with longer-term care provided in partnership with regional centers and other community-based programs.

"The DC's will not operate in the future the way they operate today. How they will change and how we get there is the next lift," Diana Dooley, secretary of California's Health and Human Services Agency, told task force members Friday.

Dooley after the meeting said she could not predict how many clients would remain at the Sonoma center or the level of care that would be provided there. She also could not say what would happen to the 1,200 people who are employed at the center, other than that they could possibly find jobs elsewhere with the state. She listed state hospitals and the Department of Corrections as possible transfer options.

"The only constant is change. Change occurs in a variety of places. Some jobs are eliminated and other jobs are created," Dooley said after Friday's meeting.

Neither Dooley nor the task force offered a timeline for instituting the changes at developmental centers. State health officials said the recommendations could be part of Gov. Jerry Brown's January budget.

The recommendations are sure to fuel more anxiety among advocates of the Sonoma Developmental Center, which has been a community fixture since 1891. The concerns go beyond patient care and jobs, to what would happen to the infrastructure and land were the state to abandon the facility, which is situated on nearly 1,000 acres between two parks.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who attended Friday's meeting, said she believes that whatever changes take place at the Sonoma center will occur over a long period, given the number of people who reside there. But she said the task force's 40-page report left her even more concerned for the center's long-term future.

"There didn't seem to be a recognition of the large number of residents still living on the site and the serious, physically challenging conditions that they have," she said prior to addressing the panel.

Gorin told the group that the Board of Supervisors' top legislative priority at the moment is maintaining services at the Sonoma center.

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