$2.5 million allocated to sustain health care for Sonoma Developmental Center residents

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The state has earmarked $2.5 million for construction of a specialized health center in the North Bay that would serve disabled residents living at the Sonoma Developmental Center, which is slated for closure in 2018.

The closure will leave about 350 medically fragile patients without crucial specialty medical, dental, mental and adaptive services, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. The state funds are expected to be used to build a “health care hub” for those services at a local community health center, he said.

The state agency that oversees the Sonoma Developmental Center will put out a request for proposals by the end of December, hoping to attract interest from one of several federally qualified health centers in the North Bay, McGuire said.

“A large number of Sonoma Developmental Center residents will continue living in the North Bay,” McGuire said. “Once the center closes, the specialty medical, dental and mental services also go away, so it’s important to invest these funds here in Sonoma.”

McGuire said the funding will most likely be used to “build out” a wing at a local health center, creating unique exam rooms, where specially trained medical professionals will see patients with developmental disabilities. Aside from medical, mental and dental care, the proposed health care hub will also provide adaptive technology such as custom shoe services.

“One of the biggest challenges that families face is ensuring that their loved ones receive proper dental care,” McGuire said, adding that in many cases patients have to be placed under general anesthesia and regular dentists are often not willing or able to see patients with developmental disabilities.

Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer for the Petaluma Health Center, said his organization has been in talks with the county on developing such health care services for severely disabled patients.

“We have an opportunity to develop a model of care to ensure that all people with disabilities have access to the specialized care they need to thrive,” said Toledo.

The $2.5 million would be used only for “brick and mortar” construction of the health center wing. The health center would be expected to fund the staffing and operations, with Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, most likely covering a significant portion of patient care. Federally qualified health centers receive an enhanced reimbursement rate from the federal government.

The Petaluma Health Center, he said, “is committed to working with consumers, community and government leaders to develop sustainable business plan and to navigate any potential threats to safety net funding for the most vulnerable.”

The state anticipates that whoever is awarded the project will need to break ground by the summer of next year, McGuire said. The goal is to have the specialty services wing up and running before the closure of the Sonoma facility in 2018.

The Sonoma Developmental Center is one of three facilities operated by the state. Gov. Jerry Brown is also seeking the closure of the Fairview Developmental Center in Southern California and the non-secure treatment portion of the Porterville Developmental Center by 2021.

The state has promised to place regional developmental center residents in community-based housing. Just over 1,000 people reside in the state’s three developmental centers, compared with an estimated 302,000 in community settings by summer 2017.

Sonoma County 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district includes the Eldridge-based center, applauded the creation of a local health center for displaced residents. For several years, Gorin has been working with local stakeholders and patients’ families to meet the needs of those affected by the center’s closure.

But Gorin said she had supported a proposal to place the health center at the current developmental center campus.

“Although we are disappointed that model is not feasible, we are pleased that the specialty services will be available to North Bay clients in the near future,” Gorin said.

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