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Police Standards Proposed for State-Run Facilities for Developmentally Disabled

Legislation also calls for staff to report alleged sex assaults, physical abuse and sudden or mysterious patient deaths to outside law enforcement or the state.

Protective services at Sonoma Developmental Center and other state-run facilities for severely intellectually disabled people would be overseen by sworn police officers with extensive management experience under a bill awaiting the governor's signature.

This comes in the wake of at least 12 years of reports of problems within the statewide developmental center system, some reported to be caused by these onsite personnel who are tasked with enforcing certain aspects of the law. The staff has been criticized for lack of investigations and sloppy or delayed work in various government and advocacy group reports. The state also has received criticism for not providing adequate training.

Under Senate Bill 1051, introduced by Sen. Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Committee on Human Services, the chief of protective services at each facility would be required to have experience "directing uniformed peace officer and investigation operations."

"Up until now, anyone has been able to do that job," Liu's legislative director, Robert Oakes, told Patch on Thursday. "One person was a former fire chief. They're two different jobs."

The proposed law would also require the state Department of Developmental Services, which oversees these facilities, to report these alleged incidents to the federal Human Services Agency, which oversees the state.

The governor has until Sept. 26 to sign or veto the bill, which contains an urgency clause. If signed, it will go into effect immediately.

A , a and other reports of abuse and neglect at the Sonoma center are the latest in a series of long term concerns that have launched the proposed standards.

There have been concerns raised over state facilities for developmentally disabled people since 2000, when issues raised by Sonoma Index-Tribune led to a report by the Attorney General's Office questioning whether the state Department of Developmental Services could adequately protect its institutionalized residents. That report, obtained by Patch from staff of the Senate Committee on Human Services, is attached to this article.

Sonoma Developmental Center, in the community of Eldridge near Sonoma, is the largest facility in the state that serves people with conditions such as cerebral palsy and severe autism. It was established in 1891.

California Watch, an investigative journalism group, recently disclosed a Department of Public Health report that documented "abuse" and "neglect" at the Sonoma center and called for immediate corrections. The report is attached to this article by Ryan Gabrielson. Patch requested a copy of the report from the Department of Developmental Services. However, staff responded that the 450-page document must first be completely redacted to comply with the law due to patient privacy issues.

The Senate Committee on Human Services held a hearing on developmental center concerns in March 2012. Liu then introduced the committee's bipartisan bill. It includes a requirement that the chief of Protective Services at each state facility be POST-trained and certified. POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) qualifications are not currently required as part of that job, Oakes said.

Another piece of legislation is due to get a Senate concurrence vote this week. SB 1522, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would mandate that any deaths, broken bones with unknown causes, assaults and injuries to genitalia get immediately reported by the developmental centers to outside law enforcement. The two bills overlap in many areas. The full text for each can be found on this legislative website.

The Department of Developmental Services on Aug. 22 responded to the Watchdog report on Sonoma Developmental Center with a news release stating that the executive director and clinical director at the center had been replaced.

The news release confirmed "patient protection incidents" documented in a July 19th report by the Department of Public Health. It further stated: "The employee involved in the lewd act (exposure) was terminated and later convicted. The employee involved in the taser incident was terminated for weapons possession. Several other employees have been terminated or disciplined. Investigations continue and appropriate actions will be taken where needed."

At the Sonama center, an interim executive director, Karen Clark, is now assigned, according to staff.

Patch requested a tour of the center, through DDS and Clark's assistant but has not yet received a date, although the center's website announces that tours can be scheduled.

Meanwhile, a parents' group is defending the center, saying the reported incidents are isolated situations.

Executive director of Parent Hospital Association, Kathleen Miller, made this video statement on the group's website. She said the majority of staff at the Sonoma Center are there "for the right reasons." She said staff were the ones to report abuse and that the Sonoma center constantly is being observed by the loved ones who visit clients there. She also said that staff are being overworked due to budget constraints.

in June noted that activity programs and staff were being cut from the center.

Oakes acknowledged financial concerns and said that in addressing the state budget, "We've tried to avoid harm to our most needy citizens, particularly the disabled."

Sonoma Developmental Center provides acute, nursing and intermediate care to people with severe developmental disabilities. 

We'd like to hear your opinions on these issues. Tell us in the comments.

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Brant September 17, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Today, September 17, 2012, is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The Founding Fathers drafted a document that provided for an effective federal government (which the Articles of Confederation did not provide), but a carefully limited government. Senator Liu's requirement that alleged incidents be reported to a federal agency shows how far we have deviated from the intent of the Founding Fathers. All abuse is reprehensible, and abuse of the disabled is especially so. However, the Parent Hospital Association tells us that problems are isolated. I would prefer that isolated problems be dealt with locally within the Sonoma County criminal justice system, and that Sacramento not seek to micro-manage the facility.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 17, 2012 at 04:52 PM
@Brant, thank you for reminding us. It is too bad that so little of the Constitution is still respected and abided. We do have an obligation to those most needy and most vulnerable.

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