Sjany de Groot has faced challenges before and come out on top. With community support, she’s overcome bureaucratic hurdles, and for approximately 35 years, she’s made her home a haven for medically fragile children.
Many of the children who have been in her care could not communicate; could not walk; could not feed or dress themselves without help. Many have died in her arms, though some have defied medical expectations and lived much longer than doctors predicted.
No matter their medical needs, De Groot, 86, has opened her home to these children who often had nowhere else to go. Now, her highly regarded operation is in jeopardy. As widely reported over the past couple of weeks, inspectors with the state Department of Public Health have handed her a 94-page list of alleged violations.
De Groot has until Sept. 30 to correct the deficiencies or she’ll risk losing her license and with it, her Medi-Cal funding.
The state has a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that these vulnerable children are cared for properly; our intention is not to demonize state inspectors for doing their job.
Yet this development is puzzling; why crack down on de Groot now when some of these conditions have been ongoing? De Groot’s home has passed licensing inspections until now, so why is it suddenly so unacceptable?
We might understand if there had been an overhaul of state regulations, but a spokesman with state health assured us there have been no changes in laws or regulations, and no changes in the de Groot home’s designation .
Yet she faces a daunting list of allegations that run from minor and easily corrected to more serious ones that will be difficult and costly to correct to the state’s satisfaction.
Some relate to staffing; others to a lack of individualized treatment plans and structured activities for the children; and still others to the physical layout of the house, where she cares for five children who range in age from 2 to 16.
One of the most significant in that category is a requirement that de Groot provide walls to separate the children’s beds. That will be a costly step, but for de Groot, the problem is even more fundamental: She does not think each child should have to be separated that way. She calls it placing them “in jail.”
De Groot is convinced that the state will pull her license no matter what, and she’s determined to remain open in spite of that.
That’s admirable. But we believe it would be far better to reach a compromise that will allow de Groot to continue to receive funding — she certainly deserves it — while providing the state the assurance it needs that the children’s needs are being met. Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian has offered to act as liaison between the de Groot home and state health. That’s an excellent idea.
However, developing an acceptable plan will take time, certainly more time than the state is providing.
These children aren’t in immediate danger — if they were, they should already have been removed — and under the circumstances, we strongly urge the state to back off on the Sept. 30 deadline.
We urge, too, that state health send representatives to San Luis Obispo so they can work with de Groot to develop an acceptable plan. Expecting her to travel to Ventura — the closest office — is not practical.
And finally, we strongly urge that the state Department of Public Health apply as much flexibility as possible when judging facilities such as this one. The de Groot home is exactly that — afamily home — not a miniature hospital.