The Best Care? It's Close to Home

My friend's 18-year-old daughter, Allison, functions at the level of an 8-month-old, has severe cerebral palsy, is tube-fed and is medically fragile. Many might think her challenges would require that she be placed in a far-away institution for people with developmental disabilities, yet she is healthy and receiving the high level of medical and other services she needs in a small, intermediate care facility about five miles from her parents' home. They and other family members are able to visit frequently and attest to the quality of her care and her caregivers.

Allison's situation is not uncommon in Orange County, where more than 12,000 people with developmental disabilities, 370 of them in fragile medical condition, live in their family homes, group homes and other home-like settings. They receive the services and support they need, and their often active participation in neighborhood life enrich our community.

At Regional Center of Orange County, the nonprofit organization that coordinates services and support for county residents with developmental disabilities and their families, we are committed to continually improving the system that enables people like Allison and so many others across California to live not in institutions but in neighborhoods.

That is the reason we support Assembly Bill 896, sponsored by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), which has passed the Assembly and on Wednesday had its first hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

AB 896 continues the reformation that began in the 1960s when Republicans and Democrats rallied around a vision that all residents of California's institutions would one day live in natural home settings in the community. The bill creates a platform for further reform, chiefly by unifying California's system for funding developmental disability services and support.

Placing its focus on high-quality, cost-effective community care, AB 896 would gradually downsize and close oversized and antiquated state institutions that otherwise would cost taxpayers up to $2 billion to bring up to code. It redirects a larger share of existing funds into the community, where 98% of Californians with developmental disabilities live and receive services, and it uses dollars recouped by downsizing and closing institutions to enhance critical local programs.

AB 896 also includes important provisions to ease the transition for people who leave state institutions for life in the community, ensuring that they continue to receive the care and services they need and enabling the workers who now care for them to maintain the caring relationships that will help them continue to thrive. While the bill does not increase general fund dollars for developmental disability services, its reforms will yield more and better services at less cost.

With California's once-generous surplus now gone, it is doubly important for our elected leaders to pass AB 896. It's time to stop plowing scarce tax dollars into antiquated institution buildings and instead invest in the people who receive the services and the people who deliver crucial services to Californians with developmental disabilities.

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