Sonoma Development Center needs its own path forward

By, Kathleen Miller, president of the SDC Parent Hospital Association, in response to an article in The Sun about the state-ordered transitioning of patients from Pomona’s Lanterman Developmental Center to “community living facilities” in that area.

My first reaction to the article is to point out that Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is not Lanterman. The differences between the two centers are striking. To begin with they include the Lanterman urban location vs. the Sonoma rural location, a Lanterman community where neighbors voiced strong objections to having Lanterman residents live in their neighborhoods vs. Sonoma, where local community residents tend to see the SDC as part of their community.

There is also the fact that Lanterman is closing and SDC, while facing changes, may not close but transform the services offered. The article, first printed in the Pasadena Star in 2013, does not really reflect the situation with SDC and should not, in my opinion, be offered as a prediction of what can or should happen in the future of there.

In my role as PHA President I am in communication with families of Lanterman residents and former residents. While some families appear satisfied with the alternative homes provided for their family members, others are clearly not. The state staffing program, where staff from Lanterman can transfer to other settings and agencies to continue working with the developmentally disabled community, has been mostly a failure at Lanterman. The result is that many staff moved on and Lanterman has suffered from staff shortages. Unlike what this article seems to suggest the picture of the Lanterman closure is mixed at best.

Jerra Letrich, whose sister resides at Lanterman, reacts to the article and states “Most Lanterman families are experiencing frustrations in the transition process for their loved ones while the pressure for closure is in full swing. Some Lanterman families are facing legal threats to force acceptance of homes they have rejected. There are countless personal experiences like these, often repeating many of the same themes.”

Comments for Jimmy Smith are even more direct. He states “Can you imagine a so called regional center challenging a probate court order of appropriate placement at Lanterman DC of a profoundly retarded child… the home of a loved one for over 50 years!“ He goes on the say, “A regional center challenging the conservatorship of a loving brother! A regional center telling a judge, in sworn testimony that many community homes have been offered to the brother and are well suited for a consumer transition — when they don’t even exist!” He is conservator for his sister, a Lanterman resident.

There seems to be an effort to paint the Lanterman closure as a success and marginalize those who do not agree. This is concerning to myself and the families of Sonoma Developmental Center residents. It does not bode well for the future of SDC or its residents.

PHA supports the policy of full disclosure. Only when both the successes and the failures are acknowledged and needed adjustments made, will the majority of former developmental center residents have any chance of true success.

Let me be clear. We of PHA celebrate when anyone leaving a developmental center is successful in an alternative home and we hope for a soft landing for all former developmental center residents. However, we also know that not all are so lucky and even when the alternative placement works at first it may be no assurance of ultimate success. Some former developmental center residents succeed at first but are only one budget cut, one staff change, or one medication change from disaster. By that time the press has lost interest in their fate and families are alone in their fight to get the help their family members need.

The Lauren Gold article (reprinted in The Sun) tells one side of one story. The Lanterman closure is a mixed picture at best. The fate of Sonoma Developmental Center and those who call it home needs to have a different path forward. Sonoma Developmental families, the Sonoma Coalition, and supporters of the center’s residents and staff are hoping to create a new path forward. We want to have a voice in the future of Sonoma Developmental Center. We want a voice in the fate of the residents, and the fate of the land, the fate of those who have chosen to work at the center, and the fate of the community role to impact the future of this valuable asset. Join us!

Kathleen Miller is the president of the Sonoma Developmental Center Parent Hospital Association. Parenthospitalassociation.org.

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One Response to Sonoma Development Center needs its own path forward

  1. jim smith says:

    i am a different jim smith. my first job was at SSH . i can only agree that lanterman is a far cry from the bucolic place that is was SSH. i would hope that SSH continues on and resists development in this sprawling estate. sonoma is far too glutted as it is.