Lack of state funding threatens Santa Rosa home for people with developmental disabilities

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Chrissy Wilka’s house on Baird Road in Santa Rosa’s Rincon Valley neighborhood is classified as an ICF/DD-CNC — an intermediate care facility with 24-hour continuous skilled nursing care for those with developmental disabilities.

For Wilka, 29, who’s had severe cerebral palsy all her life, the Baird House is just home. Her bedroom walls are decorated with photos of her family, and images of her favorite movie stars and musicians, which she prints out at the Rincon Valley Regional Library.

The Montgomery High School graduate often visits friends in the neighborhood, spends weekend afternoons at Rincon Valley Community Park and sometimes gets lunch with her parents at Oliver’s Market on Montecito Boulevard.

But the 24-hour care she receives is going away; Baird House is scheduled to close this year. The reason is the state reimburses the 25-year-old facility at half the monthly rate per resident it does similar homes created by the state Legislature in 2005.

The monthly, per-resident reimbursement Baird House gets from Medi-Cal through the state Department of Health Care Services ranges from $11,564 to $13,588 a month per individual, according to North Bay Regional Center, the state’s contractor that provides case management and family support services to Sonoma Development Center residents.

By comparison, the continuous care facilities developed by state law receive a median reimbursement of $22,636 a month per resident. These homes are called Adult Residential Facilities for Persons with Special Health Care Needs and are licensed by Community Care Licensing, a division of the state Department of Social Services.

Those familiar with both models of care say Baird House actually provides a higher level of care than the newer adult residential facilities. Baird House’s Medi-Cal rates were set back in 2000 and have increased little since, said Russell Schreiber, a Sonoma County psychologist who founded Baird House in 1993 with his wife, also a psychologist.

Schreiber, who sold Baird House to California Mentor in 2006, said the home is a model of care that is greatly underfunded.

The couple founded the home at a time when there were “quite a few” children at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Schreiber said he proposed to the state setting up a home for the medically fragile children there.

“SDC wasn’t able to give those children any quality of life at all given the staff-to-client ratio,” Schreiber said.

He said he and his wife cut a deal with the North Bay Regional Center under which the center supplemented Baird House’s Medi-Cal payment with additional funds, he said. That funding was written into law when the state created a new class of facility that provided continuous care for people with developmental disabilities and branded it ICF/DD-CNC.

Baird House was one of seven such homes in the state set up as pilots. Schreiber said the homes saved the state as much as 50 percent per resident.

“When these individuals were in developmental centers, the cost was in the neighborhood of $150,000 a year” for each resident, he said. At that time in homes like Baird House, the cost was about $75,000 a year per resident.

California Mentor announced earlier this year that without increased state funding it would be forced to close the facility by the end of the year. That would mean moving Wilka and her five roommates to some other facility with continuous nursing care.

But her parents, Bill and Theresa Wilka of Kentfield, say if Baird House closes, no similar facilities exist in the North Bay. They’d have to move their daughter to a facility providing a lower level of care or out of the area altogether.

“She’s not a potted plant that you can move from one place to another, and as long as she gets sun and water she’ll be OK. These are people,” Bill Wilka said.

The Wilkas, both attorneys, have aggressively advocated for their daughter and other Baird House residents, trying to convince state officials to increase its funding.

Three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled a plan to close the Sonoma Developmental Center by 2018 and spend nearly $50 million to transition residents into community-based homes and programs. Under the plan, two other centers, Fairview Developmental Center in Southern California and Porterville Developmental Center in the Central Valley, also are scheduled to be closed by 2021 under Brown’s plan.

Cost is one of the driving forces pushing the closure of the state’s developmental centers. What’s more, the Sonoma Valley-based facility was also been hit with cases of sexual assault by developmental center staff.

But the closure of SDC is also driven by state laws that ensure those with developmental disabilities are provided with services and support that allow them to live more independently.

The Wilkas and Schreiber say the state is giving priority to residents coming out of developmental centers, at the expense of those with developmental disabilities who are already in the community.

When asked what avenues could be taken to keep Baird House open, North Bay Regional Center staff said in an email “the state is in the process of reviewing rates for continuous nursing homes to determine what funding options may be available.”

The organization said the primary focus of all its decisions is the health and safety of the people it serves, as well as considering the person’s comfort and happiness, “especially in the case of long-term residents who have resided in one home with the same house mates.

“If necessary,” the email continued, “we may explore other living options in the future. However, we know the preference expressed by the families of residents would be to stay in Sonoma and if possible to have all six residents stay together.”

Cathy Mudge, a spokeswoman for Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, said he is aware low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates continue to put facilities like Baird House at risk. She said Wood has long advocated for higher Medi-Cal rates and worked to prevent closures of such facilities for financial reasons.

“Our numerous inquiries about this issue to the DPH have made them well aware of our interest in and concern about this closure,” Mudge said, adding that Wood will “continue request updates on how the process of finding another facility for these residents is progressing.”

Sen. Mike McGuire said he’s also trying to rectify the discrepancy in rates.

“We were initially contacted by families who have relatives living at the Baird House — and we share their concern,” McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said in an email. “The residents deserve the best quality care possible and we are working with the Department to get the reimbursement rates increased so that the residents, their families and staff can have peace of mind.”

But for the Wilkas, Baird House is more than just a facility. They say it’s a model home for people with severe disabilities who are no different than those coming out of state developmental centers.

Povi Wagner, a registered nurse who runs the day program Chrissy attends five days a week, called the funding gap between Baird House and the newer homes “crazy,” especially since more nursing care is provided at Baird House.

“They have very, very, very similar nursing and care, everything is almost the same yet one gets almost double the reimbursement,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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