Head of California’s troubled developmental services agency to retire

Terri Delgadillo, director of the Department of Developmental Services

Credit: Monica Lam/The Center for Investigative Reporting

Terri Delgadillo, director of the California state government’s sprawling network of services for the developmentally disabled, announced today that she would retire at the end of the year.

In 2006, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Delgadillo, 55, as director of the Department of Developmental Services, an agency with a more than $4 billion annual budget. She had worked in various levels of government for three decades, including stints with the California Youth Authority and the state Health and Human Services Agency.

For more than a year, Delgadillo has dealt with revelations of egregious violence and shoddy investigations into crimes at the state’s five board-and-care institutions, which house about 1,500 patients with cerebral palsy and other severe developmental disabilities. The department oversees the institutions.

“I leave with a heavy heart knowing there are still significant challenges ahead for the department,” Delgadillo said in the announcement. “However, continuing health issues have prompted me to make the difficult decision to retire.”

Last year, a series of stories by The Center for Investigative Reporting detailed how an in-house police force, called the Office of Protective Services, routinely failed to do basic police work when patients were abused, including suspicious death and sexual assault cases. The force was set up specifically to protect patients with developmental disabilities, but few violent crime cases at the institutions have resulted in criminal charges.

CIR, through its California Watch project, detailed that dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn’t order “rape kits” to collect evidence, a standard law enforcement tool. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country.

The police force’s inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients – even after the department had evidence that could have stopped future assaults.

In December, state and federal regulators stripped the Sonoma Developmental Center of its primary license to operate.

Diana Dooley, California Health and Human Services secretary, formed a task force to prescribe fixes for the aging developmental centers and ensure they protect patients from harm. Delgadillo is a member of the task force, which is scheduled to finish its proposals Nov. 15.

Delgadillo said that she intends to remain in her position for the rest of 2013 if her health allows.

In an email to department employees, she wrote that, during her tenure, the agency increased federal funding for the state’s developmentally disabled and “weathered the worst fiscal crisis to face our system.”

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