By Andrea Karshan
Sixteen Brooklyn day care centers were among the 70 centers citywide that the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene failed to test for lead and for years falsified reports that the tests had been completed, according to an audit that City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released Friday.
Of the 49 day cares that DOHMH did test citywide, two were found to have “unacceptable” levels of lead in Brooklyn, but the matter was remediated, according to the audit. In total, the audit looked at 26 day care centers in Brooklyn.
The audit states that by falsely recording that lead tests were complete, the DOHMH was able to bypass their own system requirements to issue permits for daycare centers.
“The health of our children is non-negotiable,” Stringer said. “The fact that the Department of Health directed its employees to enter false information in an official database is a blatant violation of public trust. It should not take an audit to ensure that a City agency is doing its job to protect our kids.”
The audit reviewed permits issued to daycare centers from August 29, 2012, through August 29, 2014, and examined a sample of 119 providers to see if DOHMH maintained adequate controls to ensure that these daycare centers only got permits after meeting established requirements.
Auditors did not perform any lead tests, nor did they look for evidence of sick children, but rather focused on the agency’s oversight and operations of the permitting process.
De Blasio administration spokesperson Aja Worthy-Davis responded that although a bureaucratic process made testing standards vague beginning 2011, to date the Comptroller’s report notes no child was ever harmed in large part due to the overwhelming rarity of lead-in-water illness.
“Under this administration in June, the Health Department moved to link testing to the permitting process to help protect kids. It is a blatant mischaracterization to claim the agency systematically falsified documents based on a five-year-old email,” she said.
The administration said there were previously no clear requirements for lead water testing, and the workaround practice referred to was an attempt to give child care programs more time to submit lead tests in light of the rarity of water-lead testing.
In 2012, managers decided to make the test a requirement to issue a permit, but then realized that waiting weeks for test results delayed the permitting process for programs that were otherwise in good standing. Previously, the health code did not specify when to conduct the test and the de Blasio Administration is addressing that, according to the administration.
DHMH Spokesperson Carolina Rodriguez said the current health code does not stipulate the need of a water test for permitting a child care facility, but that all recommendations made by the Comptroller are being implemented.
The agency conducted a thorough review of lead water test reporting, addressed suboptimal reporting practices that dated back to 2012, confirmed that all childcare centers have been tested for lead, and will post results online.
“All child care centers have been tested for lead in water, and for parents’ peace of mind we will soon post the status of each test online. But the fact remains: water is not a source of lead poisoning in New York City – lead in water tests aim to ensure that aging pipes are not disturbing the excellent quality of our water. We want to be clear: our kids are not at risk,” said Rodriguez.
Additionally, the Health Department has embarked on a number of reforms –submitted to the Board on Health– that will make child care in New York even safer, including specifying the period for new programs to submit results of a lead water test, and a requirement to repeat the test every five years.
Read about child care reforms recently proposed to the Board of Health here: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/about/press/pr2016/pr043-16.page
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