The Sonoma Developmental Center is fighting the state’s plan to strip the facility of millions in federal funding because of what the state contends is the deficient and unsafe care of hundreds of disabled patients.
State health officials are seeking to decertify seven of the 11 units within the center’s intermediate care facility, where clients are treated for ailments ranging from traumatic brain injuries to disorders that cause them to eat inappropriate things.
The state’s action could result in 241 clients — more than half the center’s population of 443 — becoming ineligible to receive federal money for their care, which in fiscal year 2012-13 averaged $290,000 annually. The federal Medicaid program, which is administered in California through Medi-Cal, covers as much as 50 percent of the cost for patients who qualify.
Karen Faria, the center’s executive director, formally notified the California Department of Public Health that she is appealing the agency’s proposed action, stating in an Aug. 8 letter to the state agency that the center has made “major improvements” caring for clients.
Faria declined to comment Wednesday through a spokesman.
In her letter, Faria cited an “extensive retraining program” with a focus on client protection and the hiring of an additional 321 employees in clinical and administrative operations as examples of how the facility has improved.
She wrote that the center also has implemented a process of “whole person review” that ensures “ongoing oversight and accountability” related to resident rights and treatment programs to assist individuals with behavioral and psychiatric needs.
The developmental center and state Department of Public Health entered into a program improvement plan in January 2013 to improve care at the facility and meet conditions of participation for the federal Medicaid certification program.
The Department of Public Health has dual oversight of state licensing and federal Medicare and Medicaid certification of California’s health care facilities.
After a follow-up survey this spring, health officials found the developmental center had made some improvements. But officials said they were not enough for the facility to meet federal guidelines.
In a redacted 207-page report made available by state health officials, deficiencies cited by the review panel ranged from exposing developmental center clients to environmental hazards, such as an overgrown bush outside a day program that swarmed with bees, to more serious problems such as failing to keep accurate medical records or to follow proper medication protocols, and not adequately protecting clients from abuse.
Kathleen Miller, president of Sonoma’s Parent Hospital Association, on Wednesday said she felt investigators “were looking for things” to justify recommending decertification. Such action is warranted only for egregious violations, she said.
“I just didn’t see that when I read the report,” said Miller, who is supporting the center’s appeal of the state’s proposed action.
The center will continue to receive federal funding for the seven units during the appeal process. The center last year voluntarily surrendered federal funding for the intermediate care center’s other four units.
The state estimates the developmental center will receive almost $30 million in Medi-Cal funds this fiscal year for services in the intermediate care unit. The unit’s costs in fiscal year 2012-13 totaled $84 million, about half of which was covered by the federal government and the rest through the state’s general fund and other reimbursements.
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