SACRAMENTO — Attempts to correct problems at the Sonoma Developmental Center and restore federal funding for an unknown number of clients appear to have fallen short, further clouding the troubled institution’s future and that of hundreds of severely disabled people who live there.
Diana Dooley, California’s Health and Human Services secretary, said Thursday she was “pretty confident” that the Eldridge center failed to meet improvement standards needed to regain certification.
She said officials with the state Department of Public Health are to meet with administrators at the developmental center in Eldridge, near Sonoma, Friday. Asked for specifics, Dooley called the matter a “technical thing, so I don’t know how to describe it exactly.”
But she said based on conversations regarding the recertification process that she “wasn’t going to be satisfied” with the results.
Dooley on Thursday presided over a meeting of a state task force that is weighing how well community-based programs are caring for 270,000 developmentally disabled residents statewide, and whether the system can meet the needs of an additional 1,200 developmental center residents should those facilities be closed.
The same task force last year recommended the state operate a limited number of smaller, safety-net crisis and residential services and get away from larger institutions that are more expensive to operate. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget for this fiscal year reflected those goals.
However, the Sonoma Developmental Center continues to operate, with 443 clients and a staff of about 1,200, making it the largest such facility in California. News the facility apparently is still plagued with problems is sure to complicate matters and possibly result in increased costs for taxpayers.
The center last year gave up federal funding for 112 seriously disabled patients amid ongoing investigations into problems at the facility, including instances of patient abuse. The loss amounted to $1.37 million per month that helped cover treatment costs for patients in the center’s intermediate care unit — which houses more than half of the center’s total population.
The patients affected by the action continued to receive treatment at the facility. To make up the funding shortfall, officials dipped into the state’s general fund.
State health officials revoked the center’s certification after a 2012 survey and licensing review revealed 57 deficiencies, including four cases of “immediate jeopardy” to patient health and safety. The immediate threats included instances of patients being abused by staff or one another, a staff member exposing himself, and staff allowing a patient to ingest food against medical advice.
The four units affected were Corcoran, Lathrop, Bemis and Smith. Dooley on Thursday said she did not know whether the recertification survey dealt with just those units, or includes the center’s six other units. Those units remained certified and in operation under a federally approved performance improvement plan.
A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health confirmed Friday’s “exit interview” in Eldridge but he did not provide specifics nor offer a time-line when results of the recertification survey would be made public.
Dooley said she expected that could happen as early as Friday.
The center’s continuing problems are fodder for critics who say the facilities are outdated, expensive to operate and harbor cases of patient abuse.
But if anything, Thursday’s task force meeting in Sacramento underscored concerns about the proposed alternative — community programs that could meet the needs of developmental center patients, as well as patients who are already living outside institutions.