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Local Child Care Provider Battles with Government Agency to Re-Open in Wake of Tragedy

July 02, 2018 08:12 AM

(ABC 6 News) - In October of 2017, an Eyota child care provider's life changed forever when tragedy struck her home.

On May 8, 2018, that provider, Molly Rieke-Hofschulte testified at a Minnesota Senate hearing about child care issues across the state. 

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"Obviously, I'm a horror story of what happens when you try to save a child's life," Rieke-Hofschulte said during her testimony.

Rieke-Hofschulte has been a child care provider since 1999. But her entire world changed when she laid 3-month-old Bryson down for a nap one fall afternoon.

"October 27, 2017, sudden infant death syndrome hit my house," Rieke-Hofschulte said. "I set the infant check timer; first check, something's wrong. I start CPR, immediately damning myself of proving to DHS how he was found, hence how he was laid down."

She was unable to resuscitate the infant. Rieke-Hofschulte's child care was immediately shut down for an investigation, which she understood. However, she said she found something troubling when looking over the incident report and statements from that day.

"I read the statement and said 'there's something wrong with this,'" Rieke-Hofschulte told ABC 6 News.

The document said the child had allegedly sustained serious injuries while in her care, and that's why she was closed and under investigation.

"I said ‘I don't agree with why they suspended my license, I'm going to appeal,'" Rieke-Hofschulte said.

She appeared in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in November 2017, and the judge ruled that the reason Rieke-Hofschulte’s daycare had been closed should be rescinded. But something she didn't notice at the time, was that the judge's ruling was only a recommendation and the Department of Human Services Commissioner would send back a final decision on her appeal.

"I'm thinking 'great, we're going to up and run, DHS obviously has to clear this, but as soon as they read this judge's ruling, they're going to understand the moving parts here and understand that no foul play has been done to this child,'" Rieke-Hofschulte said.

According to the coroner's report, the cause of death was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). As a result, Rieke-Hofschulte was cleared by the Child Protection Agency (CPA) and law enforcement of any wrong-doing, however, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and licensing wanted to wait for the toxicology report before giving her the green light.

"We waited, and then, the death certificate arrived which was clean, which means it said ‘undecided’ so we knew that toxicology was back and that ‘undecided’ was the SIDS diagnosis," Rieke-Hofschulte said.

However, when she contacted licensing and DHS separately, she said each agency told her they were waiting to hear back from the other before moving forward with her case. Rieke-Hofschulte said this lasted from December into January.

During this time, Rieke-Hofschulte received the DHS Commissioner's Findings of Fact with a set of modifications.

One paragraph contained bolded words and changes, which changed a sentence to say:

“Given evidence in the record that Licensee violated infant safe sleep requirements on four occasion, the Department has met its burden to show specific, articulable facts exist providing a reasonable suspicion that there is an imminent risk of harm to the health, safety, or rights of children served by Licensee’s family child care.”

"You go into a court and you expect for a judge to take everybody's statement and then rule, which they do, but you don't expect the other party to have an immunity card," Rieke-Hofschulte said.

Feeling like she was at a loss, Rieke-Hofschulte decided to go another route.

"It took an S.O.S email to every legislator that we have, and the only one that answered me was Carla Nelson," Rieke-Hofschulte said. 

"The thing that I was concerned about, was there seemed to be a shifting well we're waiting for this government agency to do this, and no we're waiting for this government agency to do this,” Rochester Senator Carla Nelson said. “So it was navigating through the mired of licensing jurisdictions to get to an answer in a quick manner."

Nelson contacted DHS herself and expedited Rieke-Hofschulte’s case. Rieke-Hofschulte said after a few weeks more of delayed meetings she was finally able to speak with DHS and work things out. She re-opened her child care on February 2, 2018.

However, Rieke-Hofschulte was closed for nearly three and a half months, leaving 12 kids and their families without childcare.
"Can you imagine the trauma of the daycare provider, but what about the parents of the of the other children who suddenly didn't have a place to go and didn't know if they were going to be able to resume getting child care at this facility," Nelson said. 

ABC 6 News reached out to the Minnesota Department of Human Services and asked about the situation and the process. 

Inspector General Carolyn Ham said:

“The death of a child is a tragic loss, and our hearts go out to the parents, child care provider and others who loved this baby. We acknowledge that the complex system of state and county licensing, child protection and law enforcement responsibilities can be difficult for providers to manage and that it can be especially challenging in the wake of a tragedy. We apologize for the errors we made in documentation and have corrected them. We continue to communicate with the provider about her concerns and are committed to making improvements where needed. We all share the same goal, ensuring children are safely cared for, and that providers have the support and resources they need to do so.”

As far as the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling, DHS said:

"The Commissioner's Final Order regarding the temporary immediate suspension specifically stated there was no legal conclusion that the violations caused or contributed to the infant's death." "DHS has not made any conclusion that Ms. Rieke-Hofschulte was responsible for the infant's death."

The Department of Human Services also mentioned comments made about its consistency in the protocol:

“In 2012, in response to a significant increase in infant deaths, a memo was issued to all licensed family child care providers and posted to DHS’ website to reiterate the importance of abiding by licensing requirements pertaining to safe sleep practices at all times. The memo quotes the law that was in effect at the time, which included that parents could direct a child care provider to place an infant in an alternate sleep position.

In 2013 the law changed to require that only a physician could provide this kind of directive.  Providers were notified of the change in the law and the Physician Directive for Alternate Sleep Position form is available on DHS’ website.  In 2013 the legislature also revised the training requirement for licensed child care providers, mandating that providers caring for infants take a class on preventing Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths at least annually.  That same year the legislature also adopted requirements for providers to take classes on administering CPR to infants and children at least every other year.  Providers are expected to follow the procedures taught in these classes; DHS has not issued any guidance or protocols for resuscitating an unresponsive child.

The 2012 memo remained available on DHS’ website as a reference for providers. To ensure that the DHS safe sleep memo from 2012 is not causing any confusion among providers, we are removing it from the website."

They also commented on the timeliness of the process:

“Once the appeal process was concluded, the licensing investigation still needed to be completed before DHS could lift the temporary immediate suspension. This included, but was not limited to, receiving the completed autopsy with a copy of the toxicology report.”

Rieke-Hofschulte continues to care for children but said the experience with DHS has scarred her.

"We have to train for this, but you can't train for the little things that this teaches you, how to live in your house again, how to watch children nap,” Rieke-Hofschulte said, “And it doesn't help you learn how to deal with a family that's in excruciating pain.”

"His name was Bryson John Schmidt, he mattered,” Rieke-Hofschulte said at the end of her Senate testimony. “With great power comes great responsibility and DHS has shown that their power is too great for this responsibility, and you have to step in, thank you."

Rieke-Hofschulte wasn't the only one knocked down by this tragedy. Bryson's parents were also greatly affected by what happened.

"We've supported Molly from day one,” Schmidt said. “Bryson's best interest was always number one to her. She is always focused on that kind of care."

Schmidt and her husband are expecting another baby very soon. They’re already making arrangements to bring their next child back to Rieke-Hofschulte.

Credits

Elise Romas

Copyright 2018 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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