San Francisco Chronicle

April 28, 2009 - Read the article on line here

Settlement gives developmentally disabled help

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

The dwindling number of developmentally disabled Californians living in hospitals and nursing homes is likely to shrink further with the settlement of a lawsuit intended to help those who want to move to smaller centers or private homes.

The settlement, approved Friday by an Alameda County Superior Court judge, requires the state to provide more information to people in institutions about their options to live in their own communities, and to assist those who choose to do so.

The goal is "ending segregation and isolation of people with developmental disabilities so they can live quality lives with dignity and independence," said William Leiner, a lawyer with Disability Rights California, which represented plaintiffs in the class-action suit.

Although the settlement does not require anyone to move, Leiner said, it is based on the premise that many institutionalized people would be better off in small group homes or their own residences, with attendant care if needed.

Developmentally disabled people include the mentally disabled and some who suffer from conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy. About 200,000 receive state aid through regional centers in California.

Since passage of a 1969 state law that required California to provide services and support for local placement and support services, the population of state hospitals for the developmentally disabled has declined from 14,000 to fewer than 2,400, officials say. Another 4,500 live in nursing homes and other large private institutions.

At the hospitals, now called developmental centers, annual care for each resident costs $270,000, far more than the expense of support services at a small center or a private home, Leiner's organization said. One of the five hospitals in the state, Agnews Developmental Center in San Jose, is in the process of closing.

The lawsuit, filed in 2002 by developmentally disabled individuals and advocacy groups, accused the state of failing to live up to the 1969 law.

The settlement requires the state to increase efforts to inform staff and residents about community living options, and to assign caseworkers to annual meetings on the status of each hospital patient, scheduled so the patients can attend.

State officials must also ask the Legislature to continue funding for new housing options, the downsizing of large private centers, and assessments and help for residents who want to move.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelk0@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the SanFranciscoChronicle