Category Archives: Events

March 9th PHA annual legislative meeting summary and photos

On March 9th, 2019, PHA hosted its Annual Legislative Meeting at the Hanna Boy’s Center in Sonoma. Legislative leaders attending the event include Sen. Mike McGuire, Assembly Member Marc Levine, and Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin. Also attending was Ms. Nancy Bargemann, Director of the Department of Developmental Services. 

The speakers had an opportunity to discuss their thoughts about the closure and their vision for moving forward now that the last resident has left Sonoma Developmental Center. Speaking on behalf of the new Health Center in Santa Rosa, Dr. Anne French was able to provide an update about new services, including dentistry that are being added to clinic services.  PHA President Kathleen Miller served as the panel moderator and meeting facilitator. 

Many members of the audience commended SDC staff and service providers for making the final moves go smoothly and many families reported good outcomes to date.

However, issues were also raised by PHA members present including concerns for consistency of services going forward, expansion of model programs to other counties (such as the Santa Rosa Health Center, chaplaincy services for individuals with developmental disabilities who have severe behavior issues, and mental health services modeled after the Puente Clinic in San Mateo County). 

Also noted were issues related to the lack of employment or meaningful work opportunities, the need to expand recreational opportunities including the strong recommendation to have a regional outdoor recreation option developed at Camp Via, and the ongoing need to expand appropriate medical and dental services including both sedation and anesthesia dental services. 

There were also questions raised about the death data study and whether or not there are lessons to be learned that would be helpful to home/facility care providers and physical/mental health care providers in treating clients in the future. Members present felt it important to have full disclosure of the reasons for the spike in deaths during the closure period including the marked increase in deaths following the wild fires. The state legislators present indicated that they would be following the study and offered any help they might provide. 

Approximately fifty people attended the Annual Meeting including representatives from local regional centers. We plan to continue the Annual Legislative Meeting tradition in March 2020. 

Photos from the meeting have been contributed courtesy of PHA member Christian Pease and are available at The password is PHA (case sensitive). 

Kathleen’s speech for the PHA legislative meeting this weekend

As some of you who attended this year’s legislative meeting this weekend are aware, we ran short of time so I was not able to deliver my speech. I think it does include some key elements that were a part of today’s meeting. Therefore I am forwarding it on in the hope folks will take a moment from their busy schedules to read it. It does not capture everything but it does summarize much of what was discussed and it also points to the immense task that still remains-watching over the community care system.
Kathleen Miller, PHA – Co-President

March 2019 Legislative Event

We are now rapidly nearing the end of the first quarter of 2019 and there is much to be thankful for!

The good news is most former residents of Sonoma Developmental Center are in now well-served in lovely homes, by able staff.

I want take a moment to personally thank our legislators and a special thanks to Director Bargmann!

When the home my son was to be moved into installed a backyard consisting mostly of woodchips, she requested it be improved and upgraded into much more welcoming and comfortable gathering place for clients and staff alike.

And so it was.

And as a result, the quality of life for everyone living there and the work experience of those who assist them is enhanced.

It is so important that our legislators – and the Department – hear from us when things go well.

Another example is the new clinic in Santa Rosa – for those who have access to it.

We want our guests all to know how much the decisions you make matter to us and to those we love.

Now, after nearly 13 decades Sonoma Developmental Center has closed its doors.

There will never be another place like it.

No matter if you saw it as a unique, peaceful, and caring place – or as an expensive relic – one cannot help but feel a certain emptiness in the absence of a constant, reliable, and quietly beautiful location, where so many lived over so many, many years.

And for individuals like my son and others, it was a place of refuge and of last resort.

It is also important to understand there is an important legacy that does not cease with SDC’s institutional closure.

Two aspects come vividly to mind:

We are now joined with local voices asking that SDC’s historic cemetery – where thousands are at rest – be treated and respected as the sacred place it is.

 Department cannot or will not step-up and see to it that its grounds are surveyed, cleared and all those buried within them are named in remembrance – then provide us community access and we will see to it.

There is also Camp Via – unique in the access it once provided the disabled – including the severely disabled – to the wonders and tranquility of the out-of-doors.

In our view, Camp Via must be reborn, redesigned, and rebuilt and revitalized to 21st Century standards and then reopened to many including those individuals with disabilities.

These are two obvious elements of a legacy which must be honored!

So- going forward, it is imperative that we make sure you hear from us when things go well and make that recognition clear for all to see.

But we also need to come to you when we have concerns. The system of care will be impacted for generations by the closures and issues will arise.

For example it is a major concern for us that so many have not survived the SDC closure. It has taken the clarity of data to show how many died and that data is the basis for our demand that an outside agency take a look, explore contributing factors, and make clear recommendations. This must be done in the effort to slow SDC deaths and also to prevent similar numbers happening during future closures or transitions.

Dental care is another significant example.

Access to good dental services is a problem for many in our society, but for the disabled, especially those who require sedation or anesthesia, the wait can be much too long.

And you may hear concerns about day programs, a lack of recreation opportunities, or how many disabled have no regular access spiritual care.

And you may also hear about how some Supported Living Services providers are strong and good, while others should be closely scrutinized – even shut down, based on histories of repeated and serious failures.

So, no doubt, over time such concerns will arise.

It is also true that many families now care for their disabled loved ones at home.

Trending thought, opinion, and attitudes support this and suggest people with disabilities should be part of a family and by extension, embraced within their local communities across all levels of need.

And this is a most beautiful and loving thing when it works and goes well.

So we are thankful the days are now behind us when families were told they should send away a special and different child to a large state or private facility.

In many cases, especially when a disability is mild, this is the most appropriate course.

But what about families who – for reasons of physical or emotional demands – struggle to care for a seriously disabled family member?

What happens when all the able adults in household must go off to work, sometime to multiple jobs, just to make ends meet?

Or what happens when ageing parents experience increasing medical issues of their own?

And what about families dealing with a disabled loved one who, under stress, becomes aggressive, even violent?

When families choose home care, then they should absolutely be supported in this: A most personal, committed, and righteous choice.

But those who need a different path may find but few options, or none at all, leaving them trapped in quiet desperation.

That reality is decidedly not thing of beauty.

These families need our support so they know they are not alone.

No, we do not raise issues to make ourselves difficult, although at times it may seem so.

Instead, this advocacy in favor of critical, quality services is our reason for organizing ourselves, for standing together.

We know how much we depend on you: our legislators, the Department, its regional centers, and their providers.

What you do is essential to us and we know the heavy responsibility the choice to work with our loved ones entails.

Thus, if we have any one most important message for it is to let them know how much what they all do matters to us.

But what we do matters as well.

It was the families and friends of the disabled who advocated Sonoma Developmental Center into existence; that fought for the Lanterman Act, and much, much more that is sometimes taken for granted.

It is these friends and families – along with self-advocating communities of the disabled themselves – that must continue to watch over our system of care in order to help make it the best that it can be.

Because when the system of care works well, our society benefits as a whole.

But when existing services fail real people suffer.

So let us all be vigilant together and continue to work together in the spirit and purpose of a better California for all.

Thank you.

Kathleen Miller, PHA Co-President

Blessing read at the PHA 3/10/18 legislative meeting at SDC


This is a sacred time,

gathering here on the cusp of change,

this is in-between time,

like dusk on a summer night,

This moment

holds opposites of light and dark,

clarity and obscurity

tears and hope.

This is mystery time,

standing with one hand

on the garden gate:

behind us the familiar,

the comfortable and

perhaps even still, the preferred,

We have to pause

breathe deeply

and take a moment

to declare our blessings.

We declare ourselves to be blessed

by the mother of all hearts,

the earth, this land, beneath our feet.

This land participates in beatific visions

with dancing clouds and sun,

wind and rain, colored leaves

countless miraculous flowers in Spring

wild animals and ancient wisdom trees.

This land has been gentle shock absorber

for countless upset and restless steps,

healer, sustainer, home to incredible diversity of life,

open space, farm and camp.

We declare this land to be a sacred blessing.

We declare ourselves to be blessed

by the people of the heart who have lived here at SDC.

Men and women with oceanic compassion

incapable of judgement,

who like us feel shame, regret and pride,

who grieve, and love and laugh,

Men and women who inexplicably give back more than they ever receive from those who care for them.

These people of the heart share the humanity

and dignity of all humankind.

The bond of trust we have with them is sacred.

We declare ourselves to be blessed

by those heroes of the heart

who are parents and family members

of the men and women

who have lived at SDC.

Families who faithfully included their

loved one in family life as best they could,

who have not wavered in dedication

advocacy and support

especially by membership in the

Parent Hospital Association.

The faithful bond between families

and their loved one residing at SDC

has been sacred and must not be diminished.

We declare ourselves to be blessed

by those heroes of the heart

who’s amazing capacity for commitment,

cooperation, creativity, fun, organization, professional expertise, and constant loving care

have enabled this institution

to be a home for all these years.

Adding music, parties, musical productions and parades,

Evacuating during a crises,

and more so reorganizing on their return,

these heroes of the heart have enabled persons

to live as much as 70 years past their

life expectancy.

Every task of caring effort

in every small moment is blessing

and is sacred in our hearts.

We declare to be blessing those heroes of the heart

in the larger community who we honor here today.

Individuals who have dedicated their precious life’s time

in service to the common good,

who work to preserve

to evolve

to protect

and to enable

all that is good, healthy, life-giving

and society-enhancing in this valley.

The bond of trust these heroes of the heart

have with all of us is sacred.

We have to admit we sometimes

hear whispering voices of ancient ghosts

who would speak of the suffering

imposed on them in ignorance or worse

by caretakers of another time.

We pause to tell you ghosts

our regret and our sorrow

for whatever has trapped you here,

We encourage you to trust the light

that calls you.

May you finally know freedom,

healing, and warm peace

So many blessings!

Our backpacks are full of blessings.

we look ahead at the path before us,

see mist hanging in the woods

and promise of sunlight

later in the day.

We have a sacred bond with all our blessings

and we must not trash what we treasure

Here at the garden gate

these blessings are not contained by time.

They are our story our legacy and our future

as much as they are meant

to warm our hands on future frosty nights.

We may not always take perfect steps

and we may not always know perfect solutions.

Still we chose to move forward with courage and faith

We ask for steady steps, wise caution and creative progress, deep wisdom and an ever increasing capacity for love,

In all our efforts,

may we know the true, deep, and overflowing joy

that comes from knowing our life’s work

contributes to a better world

for those who follow.


Chaplain Noelani Sheckler-Smith BCC