At a Jan. 30 community forum on the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, a few themes consistently surfaced in the conversation with residents, families and workers at the board-and-care facility for the developmentally disabled. The Sonoma center has come under fire after an investigation by California Watch revealed abuse of patients and inept investigations by the Office of Protective Services, the state-run police force that operates at the center.
Our staff gathered more than 50 questions and many pages of notes from the event, which was sponsored by California Watch and the Sonoma Index-Tribune, and we wanted to share them here in an effort to keep the conversation going.
One of the issues addressed most frequently was how taxpayer money is spent within the Sonoma center and the state Department of Developmental Services at large. Some of the key questions asked by attendees: Is the money being spent properly? Are patients getting enough care? Are staffing levels adequate? One participant had this to offer:
"The SDC property is overkill for a population of 500 patients. Instead of waiting years (for the relocation of existing patients) why can't they relocate to a smaller, more modern and efficient facility?"
The idea of consolidating California’s developmental centers was popular among attendees. One participant suggested opening the center to an older population, which could potentially solve two issues at once – the care of the state's severely disabled and the elderly.
"SDC needs to open up to seniors instead of overfilling rest homes. The elderly would receive much better care."
Concerns about the administrative structure of the center were voiced as well. Attendees cited low transparency with the center’s data gathering and decision-making, making it difficult to hold officials accountable. A significant concern of Sonoma center staff members and families of patients was the lack of a “Plan B” – what happens if (or when) the Sonoma Developmental Center closes:
"We need to change the internal structure of how to do business – we need a Plan B. SDC operates as a place for those who don't make it in the community. If that's not there, where do people go if court-ordered?"
"I work with clients with severe aggression, property destruction, etc. Several have been in jail before. Where will they go without (developmental centers)?"
"Does the issue of OPS investigations (or lack) create a reason to close SDC? Are these two conversations related?"
With all those points in mind, now's your chance to weigh in. What’s your ideal future for the Sonoma Developmental Center? What can be done to achieve that future, and what are the potential roadblocks? Share your thoughts in the comments or feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.