NYC Department of Health faulted for lax lead oversight

NYC Department of Health faulted for lax lead oversight
The city’s Department of Health failed to adequately ensure that the water at group day care centers had been properly tested for lead, according to an audit from the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Patrick Donachie

An audit of city group day care centers under the supervision of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found the organization failed to require water lead tests from the centers.

The audit was conducted by city Comptroller Scott Stringer and sampled 119 of the approximately 2,300 group day care centers overseen by the Health Department. Of those, 70 did not have proof of tests, including 12 in Jamaica and Flushing.

Auditors also asserted that DOHMH officials ordered their staff to enter false information into the agency’s tracking database that made it seem as if water lead tests had been undertaken at sampled day care centers.

“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,” Stringer said in a statement. “It should not take an audit to ensure that a city agency is doing its job to protect our kids.”

The audit included an examination of permits issued to day care centers between Aug. 29, 2012 and Aug. 29, 2014. According to the audit, the DOHMH’s Bureau of Child Care Management directed its staff to input positive lead test results for the 70 sampled day care centers even when no reports were submitted. The comptroller’s office asserted that the DOHMH’s actions meant that lead water testing would not be done at any of these centers. In a response included in the audit report, DOHMH disagreed with the assertion.

“The instruction given to staff was to enter ‘a negative lead event pending the receipt of the actual report,’ thus giving GDCs 60 days to submit lead test results and not delaying the permitting process for programs that were in good standing and applied for permit renewal,” the DOHMH response read. “The lead test indication was not entered to circumvent the requirement.”

Of those 70 centers without lead test reports, 12 were located within the confines of Jamaica and Flushing. The audit found no evidence that any of these centers ever offered lead test results to the DOHMH.

Stringer recommended that all day-care centers in the city must submit a water lead test result to the DOHMH, whether they are seeking a new license or a renewal. The DOHMH notified Stringer after the audit that 61 of the 70 day care centers had satisfactory water lead test results and the other nine had closed.

“DOH has confirmed that water lead test results have been completed at more than 95 percent of day care centers,” Stringer said. “That’s a victory for every concerned parent in New York City.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona[email protected]cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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