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Concerns for Disabled Progeny

Fairview should reassure parents that transfers are justified

September 21, 1997

The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa is one of seven state facilities for the developmentally disabled. Some residents can hold outside jobs, doing things such as sorting paper or cardboard. Others are on respirators and demand constant medical attention. Some have suffered sufficient brain damage that they are a danger to themselves and others.

All are wards of the state, specifically the Department of Developmental Services. Because of the fragile nature of its charges, the department should go slowly in transferring any more Fairview residents to community facilities.

A Fairview doctor and the parents of several residents there filed suit in federal court last month, asking that state courts and government agencies not be allowed to move the children, some in their 30s and 40s, without the parents' consent.

Parents worry that community facilities do not have enough trained staff to care for their patients with anywhere near the level of attention and expertise on call at Fairview. But advocates of community settings say that patients who can function there are better off with the greater independence and freedom.

That is true. But it is difficult to accept a judge's decision in one Orange County case transferring a Fairview adult with an IQ of less than 34 to a group home. The patient wanted to transfer, but his mother was opposed. She is one of the parents who have filed the lawsuit. State officials say the patients' wishes come first. That's fine for fully functioning adults but not for children or the severely disabled.

Some parents do want their children housed outside developmental centers. It was one such parent's lawsuit that resulted in a 1993 legal settlement in which the state pledged to reduce the population of the facilities and put more patients in community centers.

As a result of the settlement, each patient is evaluated annually by a team of specialists at the development center. Those deemed able to live in a group home are transferred. Elderly parents, especially, worry that after they die the state will quickly move their children to community residences. Officials need to reassure the parents that transfers from Fairview, which for decades has provided quality care from a fine staff, will occur only when justified.

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