A Santa Ana day-care center for mentally retarded adults closed its doors Friday in a disagreement with local officials, but hours later asked permission to reopen.
Operators of Ray of Hope said they decided to close because the Orange County Regional Center insisted that they help find jobs in the community for their clients.
"We feel we cannot do what they tell us we have to do. We feel it endangers the lives of the clients," said Debbie Shvetzov, Ray of Hope associate director. Many of their clients are so "profoundly retarded" they can hurt themselves or others and must be closely supervised to ensure their safety, she said.
But the top official of Orange County Regional Center, which distributes state money for the retarded and oversees their programs, said her office did not order Ray of Hope to close. The agency took issue, she said, because the day-care center has been offering "a kindergarten for adults."
Elaine Baumberg, Regional Center executive director, said that all but a few of the center's clients--who had transportation problems--will be in new programs Monday.
Wants Functional Approach
"Even the very mentally retarded are to be treated as adults," Baumberg said. Ray of Hope is "teaching clients in their mid-30s concepts that a preschool child would be taught." Instead, she said, emphasis should be placed on teaching skills that help the adults become "more functional and independent." As of this week, Ray of Hope's day-care program, which was started more than 11 years ago, had 46 clients, 43 of whom were financed with state funds distributed by the Regional Center.
Although Ray of Hope had chosen to close, the center sent Baumberg a letter late Friday afternoon asking to be reinstated as a day-care provider without a work program.
Hope officials had checked with the state Department of Developmental Services. "We discovered our activities fully conform with state standards and have subsequently realized that we have abandoned our clients rather than defended their rights," Shvetzov said the letter stated.
The disagreement came to a head six weeks ago, when the Regional Center sent a letter to the Ray of Hope outlining its concerns. The letter did not mention the lack of a work program but criticized the center for focusing on personal hygiene training, teaching English and Spanish, taking too-large groups on field trips and naming the different classes after animals, which the letter called "degrading."
'The Last Straw'
When Ray of Hope received the letter, "it was the last straw," Shvetzov said.
The criticisms outlined in the letter were unwarranted, she said. Ray of Hope teaches hygiene because many clients arrive from board-and-care homes with decaying teeth and unwashed and uncombed hair, she said, and it teaches English and Spanish because many of the clients are uncommunicative.
Ray of Hope and Regional Center officials had previously hashed out the criticisms outlined in the letter, Shvetzov said. The real issue was Ray of Hope's refusal to begin a work program, she said.
"It was simply a letter saying we have concerns," Baumberg said. Ray of Hope's emphasis was not on preparing the retarded to function in society, she said. Instead of teaching clients how to identify colors, Ray of Hope should have taught more useful skills, such as how to ask for help or for directions, she said.
Ray of Hope officials responded with a letter stating they would terminate their contract with the Regional Center in six weeks.
"Ray of Hope has never recontacted us (after declaring it would end its contract)," Baumberg said. "I am puzzled. They went to the media without ever coming to us."
Regional Center officials had talked about placing clients in jobs stocking a salad bar and clearing tables at a pizza parlor, Shvetzov said. But some clients are prone to hitting themselves and others, she said. "A couple of clients, if they are within 100 yards of a knife, you will be chopped up," she said.
"They told us to do it (put clients in a work program) or else, that they would take our funding away," said Betty Hill, Ray of Hope's director and the mother of Shvetzov. "We still refused."
Baumberg said the Regional Center never places the mentally retarded in jobs without getting parental consent and evaluating the client's capabilities. "I believe we've been deliberately misrepresented," she said.
Shvetzov said Regional Center officials do not realize how profoundly retarded and difficult their clients were and predicted they will be difficult to place elsewhere.