Source of Plan to Shut Hospital in Dispute


Although Gov. Pete Wilson said in his budget that the plan to close Camarillo State Hospital was hatched by a panel of mental-health advocates, some panelists said Thursday that they never drew such a conclusion.

Wilson’s spending plan calls for shutting down Camarillo State by July 1997, based on the dropping number of developmentally disabled patients across the state.

Plans to close the hospital were proposed only after an advisory group studied the future of mental-health services and concluded that Camarillo State should be dismantled because it spends the most money per patient, the governor said in his budget.


But some committee members do not remember it that way.

“There was general discussion around what to do with Camarillo and who needed services,” said Carol Risley, executive director of the Organization of Area Boards, which serves developmentally disabled patients.

“The next thing I heard was the governor’s summary saying the group said to close Camarillo,” said Risley, who served on the advisory committee.

Another committee member, who asked not to be identified, said “the advisory committees are for show” and that state administrators had already made up their minds to close Camarillo State Hospital before the advisory groups even convened.

A Wilson spokesman on Thursday declined to discuss the claims, referring questions to the state Health and Welfare Agency. A spokeswoman there sent inquiries to the Department of Developmental Services, where officials also declined to comment.

Two committees were set up last year to study the cost and delivery of services to developmentally handicapped and mentally ill patients, the two groups treated at Camarillo hospital. Wilson said in his budget that the advisory group covering the developmentally handicapped recommended that Camarillo State be closed. He did not specify what the second panel recommended.

With dozens of members each, the panels met just a handful of times before a Dec. 5 report by developmental service officials recommended shutting down the Camarillo hospital.


Some committee members said they reluctantly agreed to rank the six developmental centers. With Camarillo costing the most per patient, administrators characterized the ranking as a recommendation for closure.

“I didn’t rank them,” said Yolanda Solari, president of the 130,000-member California State Employees Assn., who served on the developmental services panel. “I refused.

“I’m sure the [Department of Developmental Services] is the one that said that,” Solari added. “I don’t remember the advisory committee ever saying ‘Camarillo, you’re out.’ ”

Most of the advisory committee members work closely with the state mental health and developmental services departments and depend on those agencies for funding and other resources.

Because of those close connections, some committee members are reluctant to challenge the Wilson administration’s contention that the advisory panel recommended that the Camarillo facility be shut down.

“I was a little surprised about the suddenness of the recommendation,” said one committee member, who did not want to be named. “There had been a lot of discussion about Camarillo becoming a forensic facility [for mentally ill prisoners].


“The topic was mentioned about an arrangement [between the departments of corrections, mental health and developmental services] at Camarillo State,” the committee member said. “Corrections would own the place and provide exterior security and [the other two] would provide the treatment.”

Dr. Robert Liberman, a UCLA professor and head of a psychiatric research center at Camarillo State, told a group of patients’ relatives last weekend that the mental health panelists never suggested the facility be closed.

“None of these advisory groups have recommended closure,” said Liberman, who served on the mental health group. “That was never one of the recommendations. This is really a terrible distortion by the governor.”

The claims Thursday came as top-ranking mental health administrators were preparing to meet with local officials in Camarillo to discuss the hospital’s future.

The state directors of mental health and developmental services will meet this afternoon with Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), Assemblyman Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard), two Camarillo City Council members and other local officials.

News reporters are invited, a Wright spokesman said Thursday, reversing a previous media ban. But the general public, including hospital employees and family members of patients at Camarillo State, is not welcome at the meeting.


“I wonder how they can arrive at legitimate and accurate conclusions without consulting the people who have necessary information,” said Maureen Lynch, a state labor representative.

“It’s almost as if they’re afraid of what they will hear.”

Wright said the meeting is simply a fact-finding session for her. Once she knows where local and state officials stand, she said she plans to host a meeting that will be open to the public.