ELLSWORTH — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has issued a directed plan of action for five violations found during a March 3-24 inspection conducted at the Down East Family YMCA Moore Child Care Center. In the April 8 report, the violations included incomplete employee files and background checks, staff-to-child ratios, distance between infant cots and sleeping mats and fire drills.
In the report released to The American April 22, the plan of action calls for the center to address the care violations immediately and the employee records and file violations within two weeks to 30 days. In response, DEFY Executive Director Peter Farragher and Center Director Shauna Esposito-Caldwell have taken action and are addressing or have addressed the violations, Farragher said Tuesday.
Farragher, himself, moved his office into the Moore Center to help maintain staff-to-child ratios, noting staffing needs increased during the pandemic while employment applications dropped.
“As with all businesses, we are struggling in finding competent, friendly and loving staff to support our present team in caring for the children that are enrolled,” Farragher told The American. “We have put a freeze on new enrollments until staffing can expand. As we work through this challenge, we have developed a system that is managed at our front desk for daily enrollment, staff vacancies, staff breaks and making sure coverage is within the guidelines set by DHHS. Since my arrival, we have been spot-on in covering all ratios.”
The inspection followed complaints submitted by a former employee in early to mid-February. That complainant also reported noncompliance with COVID-19 protocols, but the DHHS inspection found the center had not violated those protocols.
However, DHHS’s Office of Child Protective Services Child Care Inspector Jodie Burckhard found employee files missing fingerprint records, a background-check rule that went into effect Sept. 25, 2020; no immunization records for five of 10 employees; no annual evaluation for three of 10 employees; and no documented references for one employee.
Concerning the care of children, Burckhard found improper spacing of infant sleeping cots/mats, a lack of documented monthly fire drills and that consistent staff-to-children ratios were not maintained, with one staff member telling Burckhard that ratios in one preschool classroom were not met on nine separate occasions.
Because of COVID-19 protocols, the center was informed in advance of inspection visits, which pre-pandemic was not DHHS policy, except for one.
In the complaint submitted to DHHS, seven allegations related to employee background checks, training and treatment by supervisors and 16 alleged violations were based on DHHS child-care regulations. These included inaccurate or late-filed injury reports, dirty classrooms, late diaper changes and derogatory remarks to children by staff, which Burckhard found to be unsubstantiated.
Anyone can file a complaint with DHHS and a COVID-19 protocol complaint through the state portal, but the reporting of violations does not mean that they took place.
For her investigation, Burckhard conducted a visual inspection of the infant rooms on March 3 and reported the rooms clean, handwashing and diapering protocols followed and appropriate staffing levels. She also interviewed infant and toddler teachers, returning March 5 to complete the interviews. During the interviews, teachers described their practices in diapering, handwashing, specific and general cleaning, fire drills, determining outside play time, bottle preparing and feeding procedures, sleep practices and maintaining child-to-staff ratios. Burckhard also interviewed Esposito-Caldwell and the former employee who submitted the violations complaint.
Next, Burckhard reviewed former employee files, leading to the records and background check violations. Then, on March 17, Burckhard completed an unannounced inspection of the preschool and infant classrooms and followed up by interviewing most preschool teachers March 24. She submitted her report for review on April 2. The Office of Child and Family Services recommended the report be reviewed by the Compliance Advisory Panel and issued the directed plan of action April 8.
Editor’s Note: Ellsworth American Managing Editor Cyndi Wood is a member of the Down East Family YMCA board.