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Backers Fear Move Is Afoot to Close Camarillo Hospital

Times Staff Writer

For the fourth time since 1982, employees and supporters of Camarillo State Hospital say they fear the state could be moving to either close the 1930s-vintage facility or convert it to another use.

State officials deny there is any plan to close the hospital for mentally ill and developmentally disabled patients. The officials insist they seek only to transfer 45% of the institution’s patients to save money and improve patient care.

As they did in response to previous cutback proposals for the hospital, local officials, hospital employees and parents of patients are organizing to fight the transfer plan.

‘Target for Closure’

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They say it would leave the already underused facility more than half empty and could lead within a few years to irresistible budget pressures to close it altogether.

Hospital executive assistant Chuck Kidd, although saying he knew of “no plan anywhere to close this hospital,” acknowledged that reducing its patient population could make the facility a “target for closure.”

The hospital, which is licensed to house 1,500 patients, now has 1,300, of whom 715 are mentally ill and 585 are developmentally disabled (a broad category that includes the mentally retarded, the autistic and cerebral palsy patients, among others).

The number of patients has remained unchanged for nearly a decade.

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But, at its peak in 1959, when the mentally ill from throughout Southern California were housed there, the hospital had 7,000 patients, state officials said.

Time of Change

The 1960s and 1970s was a time of radical change at Camarillo as the state shifted from long-term hospitalization of the mentally ill in large regional institutions to housing patients in neighborhood centers or discharging them after short periods of hospitalization.

Although its role in the care of the mentally ill has been sharply reduced in the last two decades, Camarillo itself appears little changed from photos taken when it was opened nearly 50 years ago.

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The hospital, three miles south of the Ventura Freeway, is surrounded by lush farm fields. Its low-slung Mediterranean-style buildings make it look like a college campus.

The remote, verdant setting reflects the philosophy of its day--that mental patients should be isolated from the populace in quiet locations.

In recent years, attempts to reduce the hospital’s patient population have been so numerous that the “only explanation is the state has a hidden agenda to turn the hospital into a state prison,” said Gene Proffitt, Communications Workers of America shop steward for 800 psychiatric technicians at the hospital.

The same suspicion has been expressed many times in recent years by patients’ parents attending public meetings called in response to the state’s patient-reduction proposals.

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Considered for Prison

In 1982, state prison officials said Camarillo hospital was one of several sites under consideration for a prison. The Camarillo City Council joined parents and hospital employees in successfully fighting the proposed prison conversion.

Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who has led efforts to preserve the facility as is, doubts any state officials are seriously considering the hospital for a prison any longer.

He said that alternative prison sites appear to meet the state’s needs far better than does Camarillo.

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McClintock also said that laws passed by the Legislature since 1982 give local officials a virtual veto over locating a prison in a community that does not want one.

In his view, recent patient-reduction proposals have their origin in the fact that the hospital is jointly operated by the Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Mental Health.

100% or Nothing

“Both departments seem to want 100% of the action or none of it,” he said. “There seems to be an institutional bias against a hospital with a dual clientele.”

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The current proposal, which originated with the developmental services department, is to transfer the hospital’s 585 developmentally disabled patients to either Lanterman State Hospital in Pomona or Fairview State Hospital in Costa Mesa, or to neighborhood treatment centers.

Bamford Frankland, the department’s state hospital chief, said the transfer of patients from Camarillo was included as part of a proposed statewide reorganization because, besides the fact that the move would save money, it is now difficult to offer mixed programs. “The decisions are complicated by the fact that two departments have to cooperate to make the system work,” he said.

The department is scheduled to send a revised reorganization plan to the Legislature in July.

McClintock said he hopes the transfer of patients from Camarillo is dropped from the final plan, which will be before the Legislature in 1986 as part of budget deliberations.

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‘Fight on Our Hands’

“But I fear we have a fight on our hands,” he added.

Phyllis Gilbert, president of Greenline Parents Group Inc., which represents parents of 400 developmentally disabled patients at Camarillo, said her organization is preparing to lobby against the proposed transfer.

Her group disputes Frankland’s contention that developmentally disabled patients could receive equal care at neighborhood centers.

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“If that were possible, the parents already would have transferred them there,” she said.

“Camarillo has developed a wonderful program for these patients. It’s a showplace for (developmentally disabled) care.”

‘Unanimously Against’ Transfer

She said that, although many parents would be closer to their children at Lanterman or Fairview, “we parents are unanimously against the transfer because it would be years before those hospitals could develop equivalent programs.”

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Announcement of the proposed transfer of patients followed closely behind a proposal earlier this year from the Department of Mental Health to move about 200 of its patients from Camarillo to county-run neighborhood centers.

That plan, which was killed by the Legislature, was opposed by employee groups and the Camarillo Council.

State mental health officials said it would have saved money and improved patient care.

Also, in 1982, the developmental services department proposed transferring all autistic patients from Camarillo to several other treatment centers.

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That plan also was dropped in response to an outcry from parents and local elected officials.


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