Abuse of the disabled in state care detailed at hearing

Oct. 24, 2012

By Katy Grimes

The most vulnerable people in California are caught in a bureaucratic nightmare with the state’s Department of Developmental Services.

A Joint Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review and Human Services held yet another hearing Tuesday to cover the latest abuse allegations and facility closures. But little action was taken, other than a few mea culpas.

The nearly six-hour hearing was mired in history, procedure and bureaucracy about how the department is run, where the funding comes from, and the use of the developmental centers.

The Department of Developmental Services has 6,000 employees and a total budget of $4.7 billion, of which $550 million funds five state-run residential care developmental centers. Yet state lawmakers have introduced legislation to increase the number of employees at this agency.

Aside from the stories of abuse, some of the developmental centers have widespread overtime abuse, and 80 percent of the employees in one facility are always out on some kind of medical leave.

It was also reported that patient abuse cases take at least three years before any citation is issued. A psychologist testified that he worked in a developmental center for more than 10 years and found that, in cases of abuse, there was a code of silence with the staff, greatly slowing down investigations.

Once a citation is finally issued to the perpetrator, often years later, the citation is almost totally redacted, preventing the public from knowing who the abuser was, and what happened.

The “transparency” that state employees and legislators are so fond of citing is largely a tall tale in this agency, despite the “transparency” link on the agency website.

Reason for hearing

During a July inspection by the Department of Public Health at the Sonoma Developmental Center, licensing officials found many violations, including sexual assault, stun gun injuries, generally abusive treatment of the residents, failure to provide appropriate medical treatment and an unsafe environment.

“Individual freedoms have been denied or restricted without justification,” the report read.

Terri Delgadillo, the director of the Department of Developmental  Services and Schwarzenegger appointee, said that “corrective action is ongoing.” She added that the agency is paying consultants to advise on corrective actions.

Carl London, a lobbyist for the California Disability Services Association, said that 10 years ago the agency did the same thing and hired consultants, but never implemented the corrective actions recommended by the consultants.  “It’s time to close the developmental centers as efficiently as possible,” London said. “It costs $500 million to service 1,500 to 1,600 individuals in institutions. There are programs that take care of people coming out of institutions.”

Ten years ago

The most recent reports of abuse are a déjà vu. “Ten years ago, news stories about mishandled abuse cases led state officials to debate whether to overhaul a police force at California institutions for the severely developmentally disabled or dismantle it. The state did neither,” California Watch reported in March.

Shortly after the recent allegations of abuse surfaced, state lawmakers in the Senate Human Services Committee held a hearing, then demanded immediate changes to the investigative procedures at the state institutions.

But the Office of Protective Services, the police investigative arm of the development centers for the disabled, has made made egregious mistakes and bungled investigations, including the investigations of abuse, mystery injuries and patient deaths.

Lanterman Act

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explained that, in 1969, the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act was passed. It gave people with developmental disabilities the right to necessary support services, allowing them to live a more independent and normal life.  This is done through community regional centers, where more than 250,000 developmentally disabled people receive services, including diagnosis and treatment.

The five remaining developmental centers are more than 50 years old, and most are in need of structural updating.

The 2010 state budget passed by the Legislature required the closure of the Lanterman Developmental Center. When the closure was initially proposed, there were only 400 residents and 1,300 staff.  As of October 2012, there are 238 remaining residents and 936 staff members. Also, 132 former Lanterman residents have transitioned into the community.

Delgadillo said that if Proposition 30 does not pass, the department will face more cuts.

Prop. 30 is being billed as a tax increase measure for school funding. But the majority of Prop. 30 revenue would be funneled into the general fund.

State employees

Despite the sensitive and often difficult testimony at the hearing, much of the discussion surrounded the concerns of the staff and where the state employees will land after the developmental center closures.

With the revelations that staff has been abusing overtime and 80 percent of the staff is on medical leave at one facility, the Senate committee should have been talking about gross mismanagement along with the physical abuse at the centers.

The psychologist who briefly testified during the public comment period of the hearing reiterated that the needs of the individual patients must be placed above the staff needs. “My license requires it,” he said. “I am appalled at what is going on at Sonoma. We must protect these individuals.”


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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 24 October, 2012, 22:04

    Where is Teddy??? I miss him 😉

    Reply this comment
  2. Dan
    Dan 23 February, 2014, 00:25

    Let’s face the truth. If the developmentally disabled are kicked out of state institutions, then we see group homes run by health and human services and social services scrambling to provide basic medical and behavioral needs these consumers needs, and we’ve all seen how INEPT the people working in these agencies that are intended “to help” the disabled really are…….so that leaves us with the dilemma of HOW will we care for all these displaced state residential clients? WHERE will they go? WHO will take care of them? NOBODY is asking these questions….

    Reply this comment

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