- PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY
Sjany de Groot wasn’t expecting a visitor, and when a public official showed up at her door, she assumed it was another inspection.
But the man who showed up at the door said he wasn’t there on official business; instead, he said he was on a break from his government job, and he wanted to offer his help.
According to de Groot, this was one of many offers she’s received after coming under threat of losing funding from the California Department of Public Health.
De Groot, who opened De Groot’s Nursing Home for Children with her late husband 37 years ago, is currently dealing with a massive packet of health department requirements. Officials gave her until Sept. 30 to comply with the list of recommendations. Otherwise, department officials “recommended that action be initiated to terminate [de Groot’s] Medi-Cal certification.”
A brief review of the health department recommendations revealed such issues as the potential for clients to be exposed to “infection control issues” when medications were prepared “in the same area where all of the clients are bathed on a daily basis.” Another issue was that the facility lacked an evacuation procedure.
There were other, seemingly less significant items, such as tears in the fabric of a wheelchair, and one wheelchair that had flat tires. Officials also dinged the facility for not posting menus for meals, but found no problems with the quality of food served.
For de Groot, the biggest obstacle is building walls between all of the individual beds, a change that she, her supporters, and staff say makes no sense at the facility—and could actually be detrimental.
“She does it her own way, and that’s the key,” said Dr. Rene Bravo, the attending pediatric physician. “That’s why she’s in trouble now with the state, because the state has not known what to do with her because she’s not traditional—she wants to make a home out of it.”
Bravo said there haven’t been previous issues with the level of care at the facility, and noted that he’s never encountered an infectious outbreak among patients.
De Groot has received a number of offers from people who want to volunteer their time to build the walls. Other people have offered donations of supplies and money. On Aug. 18, Arroyo Grande resident and blogger Jeannett Gibson launched a campaign on the crowd-funding site giveforward.com. The campaign raised $300 within about two hours; as of press time, it had raised $595.
De Groot staffs seven registered nurses to attend to five children. Children housed there often come from hospitals and have grim prognoses and permanent disabilities, but have lived well past initial lifespan estimates.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) counts himself as an enthusiastic supporter of de Groot. He intervened when he heard about the health department dispute and secured the Sept. 30 extension—as de Groot was initially given a one-week deadline.
“She is one of a kind, she has great passion, and nobody else can take care of those kids,” Achadjian told New Times. “I’m optimistic that we can all come to our senses and have common sense prevail.”
Achadjian said he’s in the process of scheduling a meeting between his office, the health department, de Groot, and Dr. Bravo that will seek to find a compromise. He added that, in his opinion, this is a case of an overly strict application of the law.
“I think people need to get off their high horse and see the need for the human touch,” Achadjian said. “The bottom line is: Are these kids taken care of? In that area, I give the home two thumbs up.”
A health department spokesman hadn’t responded to a request for comment as of press time.