Capitol Alert

Troubled Sonoma Developmental Center loses federal funds

The California Department of Health announced Friday that it had issued a notice to terminate federal funding for the Sonoma Developmental Center, leaving the future of the beleaguered facility unclear.

The Department of Developmental Services, which runs the facility, has 90 days to appeal the decision. Nancy Lungren, a DDS spokeswoman, said the department will review the notice and decide how to proceed sometime next week. Lungren and a press release from the health department both emphasized that patient care will not change as a result of the termination notice. The health department’s notice does not affect the facility’s state license, so Sonoma can continue to operate.

The federal decertification affects seven of the Sonoma Developmental Center’s 11 intermediate care facilities – the other four lost their certification last year. The facilities at the center are akin to dorms but provide medical services and care in addition to living space. Altogether, 240 people with intellectual disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy reside at the center.

Lungren said she could not speculate as to what might happen to the patients and the facility should the DDS appeal and fail. The health department’s notice allows 120 days to wrap up an appeal. Lungren estimated a final resolution would be reached by December.

Friday’s announcement is only the latest development in a lengthy saga of alleged shortcomings at the center, California’s largest such facility. Located in Eldridge in Sonoma County, the center houses about 435 people with developmental disabilities. Last year, the health department identified numerous threats to patient safety at Sonoma, decertifying four facilities and requiring it to implement a improvement plan or face further decertification.

Among other problems, the plan noted that the center lacked sufficient staff, staff members were poorly trained – sometimes leading to injuries among clients – incidents were not always reported to appropriate regulatory and law enforcement authorities and clients did not receive all necessary medical treatment. The plan also noted client freedoms were unduly restricted.

“By locking doors and securing money, (the center) has failed to allow individuals freedom of access to homes, bedrooms, outside patio areas, dining rooms and has restricted other client rights without justification,” the plant states.

On May 5, the health department began its resurvey of the facility to evaluate Sonoma’s progress.

“Sonoma Developmental Center has made improvements under the PIP,” the health department’s press release states. “However, these have been insufficient to achieve the required level of compliance. CDPH will continue to monitor Sonoma Developmental Center to ensure the safety and preserve the rights of the vulnerable client population.”