Health

Abuse, neglect caused 13 deaths at California state-run developmental centers

Documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show California's state-run homes for the developmentally disabled, including the Sonoma Development Center, were directly responsible for 13 patient deaths.
Documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show California's state-run homes for the developmentally disabled, including the Sonoma Development Center, were directly responsible for 13 patient deaths.
Wayne Hsieh via Flickr Creative Commons

State-run homes for the developmentally disabled have been directly responsible for 13 deaths of patients since 2002, according to records from the California Department of Public Health.

The documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show abuse, lack of supervision and neglect led to the deaths in the homes, which provide services for men and women with serious cases of autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Six of the 13 deaths occurred at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa. A 2009 case at Fairview, where a teen patient smothered another girl with a pillow, was ruled a homicide that was not entirely the facility's fault, though the state said Fairview's "practices posed 'imminent danger' of death or injury," according to CIR.

CIR says the department had shielded information on the deaths from the public for years, using patient privacy concerns to keep them hidden: 

The documents paint a disturbing portrait of life inside California’s five developmental centers, where 1,115 patients are housed at taxpayer expense because their guardians are unable to provide round-the-clock care or the patients have no family at all. Few populations are more vulnerable to abuse – many are unable to form sentences or communicate clearly – or more difficult to supervise.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the public health department make the documents public. According to CIR, citations from the time detail a history of resident mistreatment: 

They show that the centers often not only failed to protect residents from harm, but also had an active hand in resident mistreatment and deaths.

In total, the public health department fined developmental centers for their actions in the deaths of 22 residents since 2002.

The incidents in the documents ranged from death to verbal abuse.    

Centers that were fined include the Sonoma Developmental Center, Pomona's Lanterman Developmental Center and the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa. 

“DDS is fully aware of the need for continuous improvement in the delivery of services at the developmental centers,” spokeswoman Nancy Lungren told the CIR via an email.

You can read the citations CIR unearthed below: