Close to Home: Tranform, don’t close, the Sonoma Developmental Center

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The three remaining development centers in California are slated to be closed due to decreasing populations and increasing operating costs.

The mandate to close Sonoma Development Center by 2018 is aligned with the news that the federal Medicare system is threatening to discontinue its significant funding contribution (as much as 50 percent) to the SDC operating budget.

The SDC closure plan calls for moving its 400 residents, who are among the most medically fragile, behaviorally challenged and severely disabled in the state, into underfunded community-based settings for people with disabilities.

And it is that very system, the community-based system, that is on the verge of collapse itself.

The closure plan for SDC was submitted to the state Legislature for review and approval on Thursday amid significant and consistent community input that envisions a transformation of the SDC campus rather than a complete closure.

The SDC closure plan is woefully insufficient in ensuring the well-being of the residents. The plan envisions moving most residents into board and care facilities. And those who are not successful, because of behaviors or mental illness, will be moved into increasing restricted settings and may likely end up in secured, locked facilities in the middle of a residential neighborhood where they will be ignored and potentially subjected to abuse.

The Sonoma Developmental Center residents are safe and happy there. The care at SDC is working.

Sonoma County interests have built a strong coalition that includes Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, the Parents Hospital Association, Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma Ecology Center and others.

For months now, the coalition has worked to create a clear vision for transformation of the SDC campus as an alternative to complete closure.

The coalition, known as Transform SDC, offers a unified vision that serves the needs of the community, residents, families and employees and honors the land. A cohesive plan for the SDC campus must come first and not as an afterthought.

The SDC campus must be transformed, not closed, with at least some services preserved for the developmentally disabled. Complementary services can be explored for other groups, such as veterans or the mental ill, who also could potentially be housed at Sonoma Developmental Center.

California cannot fail its disabled population who rely on the SDC services each day. Transform SDC, do not close SDC.

Kathleen Miller, whose son is a resident of the Sonoma Developmental Center, is president of the Parent Hospital Association.

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