Sonoma Developmental Center stripped of federal funding

State officials said they are terminating federal funding for the Eldridge facility, citing ongoing issues with patient safety at the troubled center.|

The Sonoma Developmental Center could lose millions more in federal funding for one of the facility’s main care units after state officials Friday announced broader penalties related to the deficient care of disabled clients, including allegations of abuse.

The state’s action could result in the center’s intermediate care facility losing certification and leave 240 clients - more than half of the center’s population of 443 - ineligible to receive federal money for their care.

The agency has 90 days to appeal the proposed penalties, and another 120 days to try to regain federal certification, which means the loss of federal money is not immediate. Nancy Lungren, a spokeswoman for the Department of Developmental Services, which oversees the center, could not say whether the agency would appeal. Nor could she provide information on exactly how much federal funding the facility stands to lose.

The average annual cost of treating a patient at the center is $400,000. 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.

The center avoided having its state license to operate the intermediate care facility revoked, which will allow clients to continue receiving care there. But the potential loss of federal money to pay for that care is another crippling blow for the center at a time when developmental centers statewide are threatened with closure. The Eldridge facility, near Sonoma, is the state’s largest, employing about 1,200.

Lungren called it “good news” Friday that the center did not lose its state license to operate. But she acknowledged “outstanding problems” at the facility that have led health officials to seek additional penalties.

“We’re going to continue to work on the problems that have been identified,” she said.

State health officials are seeking to decertify seven of the 11 units within the intermediate care facility, where clients are treated for ailments ranging from traumatic brain injuries to disorders that cause them to eat inappropriate things.

Because the developmental center previously gave up federal funding for four units, the state’s action could result in the entire intermediate care facility losing certification. The center also has a skilled nursing facility for more seriously disabled patients.

The developmental center and state Department of Public Health entered into a program improvement plan in January 2013 in an effort to improve the facility’s standard of care 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.

Health officials found after they conducted a follow-up survey this spring that the developmental center had made some improvements. But they said they were not enough for the facility to meet federal guidelines.

Karen Faria, the developmental center’s administrator, was notified of the state’s intended action after she met with officials Friday in Eldridge.

Specifically, the review found the center failed to meet standards in four areas: governing body and management, active treatment services, health care services and client protections.

In a 207-page survey report state health officials released Friday, 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.

The review panel noted that the center was late reporting numerous instances of suspected client abuse. The report noted one incident in which a staff member who allegedly abused a client was not removed from further client contact when he attended a training session at the unit where the alleged abuse had occurred.

The review panel concluded that 15 of 50 cases of suspected client abuse it reviewed from Feb. 1 to May 15 were not reported in a timely manner to the center’s administration, police force or to state health officials, and that corrective measures were not made in a timely manner to protect clients from further harm.

“These failures increased the risk of client abuse,” the report stated.

Lungren, the spokeswoman with the agency overseeing developmental centers, said Friday she could not provide a specific figure for how much federal money the developmental center stands to lose.

When the center last year gave up federal funding for 112 seriously disabled patients in four units of the intermediate care facility, Lungren pinned the loss at $1.37 million per month, money that otherwise would have helped cover treatment costs. Officials made up the loss by dipping into the state’s general fund.

The developmental center’s entire operating budget for this fiscal year is about $147 million.

The Sonoma Developmental Center previously lost certification in 2000, and $21 million in state taxpayer money was spent to get it back.

The Eldridge facility’s future is in doubt amid efforts to downsize or close the state’s four remaining developmental centers. A state task force that met Thursday in Sacramento 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.

Megan Gordon, who represents nearly 500 employees at the Sonoma Developmental Center on behalf of the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, on Friday defended the standard of care at the facility.

“I trust the leadership, and I trust the staff to do the best they can under the circumstances,” said Gordon, who has been employed with the center since 1984. “I know the clients are receiving good care out here.”

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or ?On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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