State Sen. Jeff Klein has introduced a bill that would require early childcare providers to post their latest health inspection reports on the premises as a way of shaming them into addressing violations.
A report recently released by Mr. Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference found that early childcare centers overseen by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were repeatedly cited for the same serious health code violations.
The Department of Health lacked meaningful oversight, the report said, and noted that since 2008 it had not suspended or revoked the license of a single one of the 2,163 facilities operating in the city.
Veronica Lewin, a press representative for the Department of Health, said the IDC report “grossly mischaracterizes” the city’s inspection process.
Mr. Klein declined to comment for this story.
“Senator Klein unfortunately won’t be available to comment,” a spokesperson for Mr. Klein wrote in an e-mail.
On average, daycare centers have accumulated a dozen violations apiece since 2010.
Violations range from not having an individual space for each child to store his or her outdoor gear to a lack of constant and competent supervision.
During the past three years, the 22 centers in the Riverdale/Kingsbridge area have received an average of 13 violations. Although few had open violations as of press time, 64 percent of providers have been written up for the same offense multiple times since 2010.
While the IDC views repeat offenses as an indication that fines and check-ups are insufficient, providers say posting inspections would confuse parents with health code jargon and they complain that the documents do not accurately depict the centers.
For example, inspectors have cited Susan E. Wagner Day School at Riverdale for more than 50 violations, 43 of which were repeated offenses, since 2010.
The center was written up seven times for failing to maintain walls, ceilings or floors or to avoid covering them with a toxic finish. It was cited four times for having conditions conducive to pests and for not keeping an extermination service log. It also received four violations for not conducting and documenting fire drills on a monthly basis.
But Donna Schumann, the school’s director, said violations for not maintaining walls, ceilings and floors are given for water blemishes and other minor issues. She said wasn’t aware of pest problems and she regularly conducts fire drills.
“They have a job to do, so if they come in and everything’s perfect — think about it,” she said. “But these are children. There’s never enough oversight.”
Among local providers, the most common violations included not maintaining medical clearances certifying that staff are mentally and physically fit for their duties; failing to conduct background checks for all required adults or to re-clear them biannually; keeping inadequate records of staff immunizations; and neglecting to document that all staff have received required training within mandated time frames.
Of the 38 violations Spuyten Duyvil Preschool has received over the last three years, 35 were for offenses the school had been previously warned about. Four times, investigators noted that the school hadn’t regularly conducted background checks, that it had failed to update medical clearances and that it did not maintain staff immunization records.
Judith Menken, director of Spuyten Duyvil, said the center racked up most of the violations two years ago, because she and an inspector didn’t communicate well. The inspector kept asking for new documents she hadn’t previously requested and was unhelpful when Ms. Menken was confused about her inquiries.
“It was very, very frustrating. With the paperwork, it wasn’t clear. I was always asking, ‘What is it you want?’” she said. “Now, I know it better.”
Inspectors visit each center annually and when the city receives new complaints. They return to ensure compliance if a condition is considered a public health hazard, if there is a more serious “critical” violation or if there are at least six general violations.
Those that fail to address public health hazards and critical violations risk being fined anywhere from $200 to $1,000.
The IDC report concludes that the fines aren’t working. Mr. Klein’s bill, co-sponsored by fellow IDC members state Sens. David Carlucci, Diane Savino and David Valesky, would require providers to post the results of their most recent safety and sanitation inspections — currently available on the Department of Health website — in a “conspicuous location” on their premises.
“What the investigation found is that many group daycares in New York City are persistent violators of public health hazard laws, are racking up critical violations and most parents would probably never know this …” the report reads. “It is also the hope that by posting the latest inspection reports, daycares will have incentive to rectify and remedy persistent violations in order to be able to post a cleaner inspection report.”
Ms. Lewin, from the Department of Health, countered that by defending the current protections.
“We have the most rigorous inspection requirements in the state. New York City conducts more than 7,000 inspections each year for it’s 2,100 childcare centers, for an average of more than three inspections per center. We follow up on every complaint, almost always within 24 hours, and have found that the majority of complaints are unsubstantiated. In the rare cases where we find significant risks, we take immediate steps to bring the program into compliance,” Ms. Lewin wrote in an e-mail.
Providers also described the city’s inspection process as thorough. Most said they thought posting inspection reports would intimidate parents.
“They may say, ‘Oh my goodness this daycare center has three violations.’ But those three violations could be for something like running out of toilet paper in one stall,” said Daniel Eudene, executive director of Riverdale Neighborhood House. “There might be a perfect center right in the area but they get scared away because a report had three violations, which is problematic, and burdens them with finding someplace else.”