If recent history has taught us anything, it is that what we thought was improbable can become reality. Over the past 50 years, what was improbable is becoming a reality: a full acceptance and welcoming of individuals with developmental disabilities within their home communities.
In 1965, over 10,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities lived in overcrowded, state-run developmental centers with a long waiting list for more to be placed. After a plea from parents to the Legislature, on behalf of their family members, in 1969, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed what was to become known as The Lanterman Act.
That turned the focus from institutionalization of individuals with developmental disabilities to community-based settings, not only to ease the capacity pressure but, most importantly, a promise of a much greater future in our communities for every one of them.
What has been described as a “recent decision” to shut down the developmental centers was actually initiated in 1969 and reinforced in 1993 when a lawsuit settlement (Coffelt v. Department of Developmental Services) required the state to honor its promise to provide adequate community supports for individuals.
Today, 21 nonprofit regional centers, funded by the state through the Department of Developmental Services, manage delivery of care, support and opportunities of nearly 300,000 folks by contracting for services with many vendors and service providers.
Porterville’s center is unique in that a completely separate facility houses individuals who have become part of our legal system and are not capable to stand trial.
This secured treatment facility is not part of the closure, which is specific to the general treatment area and will continue to operate and most likely expand to meet the needs of those who are in general population correctional facilities (mostly county jails).
From 2009 through 2015, centers in Santa Clara and Pomona were closed with successful transitions to community settings. Sonoma DC has begun the transitioning of its remaining residents with a target closure of December 2018, and now Fairview (Costa Mesa) and Porterville’s general treatment area have been given a 2021 closure date.
These closures are not a result of budget cuts but rather to provide the highest and best community care for those remaining in institutional settings. Individuals with developmental disabilities benefit greatly from community settings, and the community benefits greatly as well.
The annual expenditure per center resident has greatly increased as a result of the declining population. The buildings and infrastructure are old and much larger than needed. The maintenance costs have become prohibitive. It is partially through the reallocation of these savings that new community settings can now be developed.
The process for closing a center takes place over many years and involves input from all stakeholder groups. The Department of Developmental Services facilitates the closure plan, while the regional centers are charged with developing appropriate placements and supports as outlined in each individual’s detailed Comprehensive Assessment and the Individualized Program Plan.
The plan is developed in conjunction with an interdisciplinary team composed of the individual residing in the developmental center, his or her family members, developmental and regional center staffs and clinicians to help determine what resources will be needed to meet every need in a manner that can exceed their existing level of care.
The Department of Developmental Services and the regional centers are both here, arm in arm with our residents and their families, and promise to help develop those appropriate community supports and services. That is the spirit of the promise of the Lanterman Act of 1969, which has proved that the improbable can become reality.
Heather Flores is the executive director of Central Valley Regional Center, which provides supports by contracting for support for the developmentally disabled individuals in a six-county area. She manages nearly 400 employees through three regional offices in Fresno, Merced and Visalia.
Randy Tellalian is a Visalia-area businessman who has an adult child served by Central Valley Regional Center and represents Tulare County on the CVRC board of directors, currently serving as its board president. He also represents CVRC as its board delegate at the statewide Association of Regional Center Agencies.