Thursday, February 21, 2008

OC Register Reporter Fails to Name Judge In Licensing Death

Why not inform the public?
How else can voters make a choice to retain these judges during an election year?

Home where baby died had earlier death, state violations
Records show child died at Laguna Hills home in 2001. Operator says her own child died as well. State is investigating.
The Orange County Register

LAGUNA HILLS - A 6-month-old infant who died earlier this month was the second to die at a Barkstone Lane child care facility that has a history of neglect complaints and citations by state regulators.

The state's Department of Social Services has received more than 20 complaints regarding Moulton Ranch Day Care, operated out of a two-story home in Laguna Hills. The state has found the facility to be in violation of state regulations more than 25 times since 1993.

Officials substantiated complaints that Patricia Edwina Baltayan, who owns the day care center, drank wine on at least one occasion while taking care of children, sprayed children's bottoms with cold water when they had potty-training accidents, and scrubbed little boys' genitals until they became raw, state records show. Several other complaints were found to be inconclusive.

Paramedics responded to the home Feb. 8 after receiving a call that a child stopped breathing. Before authorities arrived, a 911 dispatcher instructed someone at the scene how to administer CPR, said Capt. Mike Blawn of the Orange County Fire Authority.

A sheriff's deputy arrived at the home first and took over CPR on 6-month-old Damian Rivera. After firefighters arrived, the baby was taken in the back of a sheriff's cruiser to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, where he was pronounced dead.

Daniel Rivera, the child's father, said it was only Damian's third day at the child care facility.

A cause of death has not yet been determined. Sheriff's officials said they found no suspicious circumstances in the death.

Damian's mother, Janay Labrado, 20, said doctors told her that her son's heart just stopped. She would not comment further for this story.

Rivera's father said he and family members suspect Damian may have been a victim of sudden infant death syndrome. But state records showing complaints and violations against the facility have caused him to worry about Damian's care.

Shirley Washington, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Social Services, said the department is cooperating with local authorities who are investigating Damian's death. A report from the coroner's office is not expected for six weeks. All deaths that occur while in the care of a licensed day care facility are investigated by the department, she said.

Complaints filed against day care facilities are also followed up by state regulators and reviewed on a case-by-case basis, she said. Officials make a decision to close down a facility when there is an imminent danger to the children in their care. Moulton Ranch Day Care remains open.

Most complaints alleging lack of supervision by Baltayan were found to be inconclusive, according to records obtained by the Register.

However, regulators did verify instances in which a 12-year-old was left alone to care for children, and several instances in which children were left unattended in highchairs.

In an interview at her Laguna Hills home, Baltayan said she did everything she could have done to save Damian Rivera. She added that many of the complaints filed against her were not true.

"They're not right and the people that know, know the truth," Baltayan said of the complaints. "I loved what I was doing, but at this time it's too traumatizing."

Seven years ago, another child in her care also died.

State records show that in May 2001, paramedics were called to her home when a 6-month-old child stopped breathing.

Baltayan said she did CPR on that baby before he was taken to Mission Hospital. He died at the hospital three days later, May 4, 2001.

The cause of death was determined to be chronic tracheitis and peribronchitis – an inflammation of the trachea and bronchial tubes, according to state records. State regulators deemed the death to be due to natural causes.

Baltayan said Damian was the third child on whom she had to administer CPR. Her own child had a reaction to medication and stopped breathing, she said. Baltayan said the child subsequently passed away, but she declined to give any more details of that death.

"I just know I can't do this anymore," she said. "I've had a lot of loss in my life."

Baltayan has talked about quitting before.

Records show that in an August 2007 visit by the Department of Social Services, Baltayan requested to be placed on inactive status, saying she only baby-sat friends' children.

However, she was never moved to inactive status.

When Damian stopped breathing earlier this month, she was taking care of two other children, Baltayan said. She is licensed to care for up to 12 children.

Baltayan was first licensed by the state in 1988. Since then, she's faced several citations from the Department of Social Services.

Records show that state officials met with Baltayan in May 1993 to discuss "concerns about long history of being overcapacity" and told her not to use highchairs for timeouts.

In 1995, she received a seven-month suspension for lack of supervision, drinking while caring for children, and caring for children while her home was being sprayed for ants, according to records.

"On at least one occasion, respondent drank wine in the facility during hours of operation," read a decision by an administrative law judge. "This occurred on the day that respondent attempted to keep her facility open while preparing for and having the facility chemically treated."

Her license was reinstated and the judge decided that the violation "although serious, is conduct that can be corrected with proper discipline containing strict conditions and a period of suspension."

In June 2006, state officials held a conference with Baltayan, the regional manager for the Department of Social Services and other officials because of "concern the Department has regarding the numerous violations of State regulations."

Among the issues discussed at the meeting were allegations of adults in the facility without criminal clearances, lack of supervision, children being left unattended with a 12-year-old assistant, overcapacity, and hazardous materials being accessible to children.

From 2006 to 2007, the department visited Baltayan's home 10 times.

"We have visited that facility quite a bit," Washington said.

When complaints were verified, Baltayan was set up in a plan of correction.

In December 2006, the Department of Social Services investigated a complaint alleging that Baltayan had caused soreness to boys' genitals and threatened children with cold showers after potty-training accidents. That complaint was substantiated through interviews by a license evaluator.

According to state records, eyewitnesses reported they saw Baltayan on different occasions pulling back on children's foreskins, causing one child to scream and cry "so loudly that the eyewitness was concerned the neighbors might call the police."

One witness reported seeing drops of blood during this process.

According to records, Baltayan appealed the department's finding, and asked for expert medical opinions.

In an e-mail sent to the state department, Baltayan also said that the allegation of spraying children with cold water was inaccurate and that "the vocabulary in these investigations are crude and suggest that children are being subject to a house of horrors rather than supported in a loving environment that cares for the whole child."

The appeal was rejected in an April 4, 2007, decision.

Daniel Rivera said he and family suspect Damian may have been a victim of sudden infant death syndrome, in which children under 1 year old die unexpectedly while sleeping. According to the California SIDS Program, a program under the California Department of Health Services that helps individuals affected by SIDS, 171 babies died from SIDS in California in 2004 – about 31 out of every 100,000 births.

"If it was natural causes, we can live," Daniel Rivera said. "If it's something someone could have prevented, someone needs to pay."

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