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State to revoke license of Missoula day care center after child left in van

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The state health department plans to pull the license of the Tot Town day care in Missoula after a 4-year-old child was left unattended in July in a van outside the Carmike 12.

“Due to the severity of the incident where a child was left in a van unsupervised and unaccounted for a period of over two hours in addition to the provider and staff’s response to the incident, the department has determined that public health, safety and welfare requires the REVOCATION of your facility license effective as of close (of) business on August 21, 2012,” reads an Aug. 8 letter from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The letter was sent from the Quality Assurance Division to Tot Town provider Melanie Hoke, who plans to fight the closure, according to the Associated Press. Hoke could not be reached Sunday through voicemails left on a cellphone number and office number listed on the Tot Town website.

The letter notes Hoke may appeal the decision if she chooses: “If you disagree with this action, you are entitled to request a fair hearing within 10 days of this notice being sent. Failure to request the hearing within this 10-day period will result in the loss of your right to a hearing.”

As of last Thursday, some 52 children were enrolled in the school. The letter from the state demands a “master list” and notes the department will inform parents of the revocation. It also warns Hoke against providing child care without a license and recommends Tot Town notify parents of its loss of license.

“If the department finds you to be providing care to three or more children on a regular basis without benefit of a registration, it is my responsibility as the Department’s representative to report such operations to the County Attorney for criminal prosecution,” reads part of the letter from program manager Stephanie Goetz.

Last week, Hoke and two others were cited with misdemeanors for “negligent endangerment” in relation to the same incident, according to the Missoula Police Department. The state agency letter states the charges disqualify Hoke and the two caregivers “from being present at the facility pending the outcome of the trial.”

“As such, you and your two caregivers may not provide direct care to day care children pending the outcome of the criminal charges,” the letter says.

The letter and an earlier interview with the Missoula Police Department outline the July 19 events leading up to the complaint, investigation, and notice of license revocation:

Three Tot Town day care workers took some children to see “Shark Tale” and left one 4-year-old boy alone in the van for up to two and a half hours, according to the state agency and police. The boy was found sweaty, red in the face, and “his clothes were wet with sweat.”

“Although the provider offered several other possibilities for where the child could have been, an interview with the child, review of surveillance tape, interviews with the staff as well as an inspection of the Tot Town van revealed that the child had been in the van during period of time the other children were watching the movie,” reads the letter and notice of revocation.

Outside the van, the temperature was 75 to 80 degrees, but inside the van, it was much hotter, according to the letter, citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates: “It was likely that the temperature inside the van was well above 110 degrees by the time the other children and staff returned to the van.”

The investigation also found “the director and staff were unclear about the number of children who were present at the movie theater,” reads the letter. It notes staff showed concern about the child’s well being but should have contacted medical personnel and obtained permission to give the child medicine.

“The department found that medication was administered to the child left in the van without proper written authority to do so and the administering staff did not document that they had given the medication,” reads the letter. “The staff indicated that they did administer medication to this child at least twice without the proper authority to do so. Therefore, Ms. Hoke and her staff have failed to follow the child care center’s policies ...”

The investigation noted Tot Town failed to meet compliance in the following areas:

  • Children were not properly supervised while at the movie theater;
  • Failure to protect children in care;
  • Failure to report an accident or injury to the department;
  • Failure to maintain appropriate permission and documentation when administering medication.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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Related to this story

The owner of a day care shut down in August for child endangerment said Wednesday she’s fighting the closure of Tot Town and hasn’t ruled out reopening in the future.

Melanie Hoke, whose day care license was revoked last summer by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, is appealing the state’s decision. In the next 14 days, her lawyer plans to file a motion for summary judgement, Hoke said; she denied being involved in the incident that led to the closure, but declined further comment until the court document was filed.

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