VANCOUVER, Wash. (CN) – Parents say their 4-year old son died from an E. coli outbreak at a daycare center that the state should have shut down for overcrowding and unhealthy conditions.
Anthony and Bonnie Wilson’s son Ronan died in April 2010, after falling ill from an E. coli outbreak that they say started at the Fletch Family Day Care Center in Hazel Dell, Wash.
The Wilsons’ complaint, which features a family photo with a blank outline of their late son, blames Fletch Family Day Care, run by Larry and Diane Fletch, for their son’s death. The Wilsons also sued Clark County and the State of Washington for failing to shut down the daycare center.
The Wilsons claim the Fletches received multiple warnings that their daycare was overcrowded, and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services should have known that the daycare posed a risk for a disease outbreak.
Washington law states that “a family child care facility can only be licensed for a maximum of 12 children, and two adults are required to supervise the 12 children,” according to the complaint.
The Wilsons say that in August 1999, the Department of Social and Health Services made an unannounced visit and found 15 children in the Fletches’ care. The Fletches were issued a civil penalty, which was upheld on appeal.
In 2005, the Department of Social and Health Services cited the Fletches’ daycare for violations that include “a covered garbage can next to the (diapering) table” and outdated procedures regarding “the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome policy, toileting, diapering and feeding of infants,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Wilsons say the violations required the Fletches’ license to be suspended or revoked, which did not happen.
The Wilsons say their son was in the care of the Fletches when an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness happened in March 2010.
The Wilsons say one child was allowed to attend the daycare center even though he had diarrhea for 10 days, in violation of the daycare’s own policies. They say two children were hospitalized with E. coli within a week.
The Department of Early Learning inspected the daycare on March 24, and cited the center for having 14 children, and not having a thermometer in the first aid kit.
The Department also found that the center “falsely claimed that they had no diapered children in the Day Care and so it did not matter that it was violating its own policies and procedures by failing to have a separate covered waste container for disposable diapers and failing to have a bleach solution sanitation bottle in the diapering area,” the complaint states.
A Clark County Public Health Department inspection determined that the E. coli outbreak “was the result of person-to-person contact,” and did not order stool samples, the Wilsons say.
They say a pediatrician diagnosed Ronan with the flu, and disregarded the parents’ claim that there was an E. coli outbreak at the daycare center.
Ronan was hospitalized on April 1, and died a week later. The Health Department eventually determined that 18 children and three adults probably had contracted E. coli, the complaint states. The Fletches’ day care was shut down in May.
The daycare center released a statement to the media after Ronan’s death.
“The challenge with understanding (and reporting on) this tragedy is that this is actually a long story with many different people involved and with a fairly compacted timeline,” the letter stated.
The daycare claimed that many families had been diagnosed with a noro-like virus (NLV), which has similar symptoms to E. coli.
“We have spent literally hundreds of hours working with the various agencies trying to understand and then manage what gradually became understood to be an E. coli outbreak,” the letter said. “In retrospect, perhaps no one had the NLV. Or, perhaps we were dealing with both simultaneously. Or, only E. coli in every instance.”
In June, the Wilsons filed a claim against the Clark County Public Health Department for failing to shut down the daycare before Ronan caught E. coli.
The Health Department denied the claim, the Columbian newspaper reported.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office has reviewed the situation with both the risk management office and the health department, and jointly they came to the conclusion spelled out in that letter,” county spokeswoman Mary Keltz said.
The Wilsons seek damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, lost future earnings, and medical expenses. They are represented by Paul Stritmatter of Hoquiam.
Escherichia coli bacteria live by the billions in the human intestinal tract and serve a useful role by attacking harmful bacteria and producing vitamin K. But virulent strains can proliferate rapidly there because they are adapted to the environment. Because it can be grown easily in the lab, E. coli is the most-studied prokaryotic organism (without a cell nucleus) and plays a major part in most scientific work with recombinant DNA.