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California home for developmentally disabled faces abuse inquiry

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California health officials have threatened to shut down part of the state's oldest home for developmentally disabled adults due to evidence of physical abuse and neglect, in a move that could displace nearly 300 of its residents.

The state-run Sonoma Developmental Center could lose its license to run one unit if it does not fix the problems, according to a letter the state health department sent this week to the director of the sprawling facility in Eldridge.

Monitors this month and last "documented incidents of abuse constituting immediate jeopardy, as well as actual serious threats to the physical safety of female clients in certain units," the California Department of Public Health letter said.

Among the incidents were physical abuse, a staff member exposing himself to a female client and inadequate monitoring of a patient who had propensity to swallow inedible items, leading to surgery, said Pam Dickfoss, assistant deputy director of the California Center for Health Care Quality.

The threat of sanctions against the board-and-care center in the heart of wine country represents a significant blow to a historic facility that opened at its current site in 1891 next to the bucolic town of Sonoma.

The center is northern California's only state-run residential facility for developmentally disabled adults and sits on 1,000 acres of land, including a petting zoo and sports fields.

Closure of the unit under scrutiny, the Intermediate Care Facility, could require moving 290 of the center's more than 500 residents, officials said. It is unclear where they would be sent and officials say they hope that will not be necessary.

Administrators have vowed to correct deficiencies and said they plan to appeal the move to potentially strip them of federal funding and a state license for the unit under scrutiny.

"We are moving quickly to fix this center and protect our residents," said Terri Delgadillo, director of the state Department of Developmental Services, which oversees the center.

She said the problems forced the removal of the center's executive and clinical directors as well as other staff changes.

State monitors identified 57 deficiencies during a July visit, including four that posed an immediate danger to residents, and dozens of other threats to residents in more recent visits, the letter said.

The facility gets $117,000 a day in federal funding, said Nancy Lungren, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services.

Most of the center's residents suffer from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or a combination of those conditions. Many have lived their entire adult lives at the center.

Leslie Morrison, director of the investigations unit of Disability Rights California, a watchdog group, said she was troubled by reports from the facility over the past year.

"This has been developing for a long period," Morrison said. "They have been trying to correct things, but it's going to take a long time."

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)

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