Day care centers refuse surprise state inspections, no longer able to receive DHS payments

Angie Lowe refused an Oregon Department of Human Services inspection of her day care site because she said she questioned whether the inspector who showed up was really with the DHS. (KATU Photo)

Several day care providers have lost their ability to care for kids from low-income families who use state subsidies from Employee Related Day Care (ERDC) to pay for child care. They refused surprise inspections newly put in place from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Self-Sufficiency Programs.

Those unannounced inspections will take place at some of the 6,800 licensed day care providers listed with DHS this year. They started on Feb. 15. So far 37 providers have been inspected. Three of those refused to let the investigator in to do the inspection.

Those providers who refuse will fail the inspection, and have their ability to serve ERDC families who pay with DHS subsidies revoked. They are still allowed to care for other kids whose parents' pay for their care out-of-pocket provided they hold a regular license to operate a day care from the Early Learning Division from the State Department of Education.

Angie Lowe owns Tiny Hands Specialized Daycare in Stayton. She is one of the three providers who lost her ERDC license because she refused to allow an inspector into her home on Feb. 22. One of the other providers in the same boat is also located in Stayton. The third is located in Albany.

"In 18 years I've never had the ERDC do an unannounced inspection. He came in a private vehicle or an unmarked car. His ID badge I couldn't make out, and his business card did not match what he was telling me," Lowe said.

Lowe received a letter dated March 2 that said she could not care for ERDC families after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. The letter indicated she failed the inspection since she refused it.

"I want my kids tonight not to leave. I don't want to say goodbye to these kids who need support," Lowe said.

She cares for 16 children. Nine of those, including four foster children, are from ERDC families and won't be back to her place on Wednesday. Parents of those nine children have had to find new child care since Lowe lost her ERDC license. Lowe said she also had to lay off two employees because she's losing the nine children.

Lowe said she stands by not letting the investigator in to her home to do the inspection. She didn't think he was a legitimate inspector for the ERDC program, and she only thought of the safety of the children in her care when she refused the inspection.

"He informed me that his badge was all I needed to see. His badge was down at waist level and it wasn't really clear, so I couldn't make out the picture and I couldn't make anything out as to who he was. All those red flags came up. I do child care. And I have foster kids in my care. I have to protect these children," she explained.

Lowe said the investigator never offered to show her his badge, and he never offered to contact his supervisor after she told him she was leery of his status. She said his business card said he was a DHS investigator for welfare fraud.

"That concerned me because what he was telling me and what his card was telling me didn't match up, I said, 'I'm sorry you can't come in,' and he turned around and he left," she explained.

The investigator's supervisor is Dr. Reginald Richardson, the director of the Office of Self-Sufficiency Programs. He tells KATU News that the investigator has a different version of the interaction with Lowe.

He said the investigator said he offered to call his supervisor, and he had a copy of the Oregon Administrative Rule and provider handbook with him that he offered to show Lowe. Instead, Dr. Richardson said she refused the inspection.

"That is a serious breach. We will not know. We do not know what may be happening when a provider refuses to allow our inspector in and we take that very seriously," he explained.

Dr. Richardson said the state identification badge, the same badge that Lowe claims she couldn't see clearly on the investigator's waist, is a department ID badge that was issued within the past 30 days.

"We haven't changed it nor do we expect to change it. It is an appropriate badge that identifies that he's an employee of DHS and so does his business cards," he explained.

Dr. Richardson, who started his job in July 2015, said the Office of Self-Sufficiency Programs has always had the ability to do surprise inspections for the ERDC program. Those inspections haven't happened until now, though, because the program hasn't had the manpower. Even now, there's only one inspector for nearly 7,000 DHS day care providers.

Lowe said she independently verified that the investigator was legitimate, and called the phone number on his card. She said she never heard back from him, until she received the letter that explained how she failed her inspection.

"Now that we know who he is and what his intentions are, I welcome him back," Lowe said.

She knows it's too late now. And, Dr. Richardson said there are no second chances.

"I think that it is so serious that when we are attempting to ensure that the financial resources that we are putting in to these providers, that we ensure health and safety requirements are being met, we can't do that without visits," he said.

Lowe is appealing the decision. She said she expects that process to take several months.

A DHS spokeswoman tells KATU News they now plan to notify all DHS day care providers via letter about the surprise inspections, but not when those inspections will be held. They are also working with the AFSCME union to raise awareness about the inspections.

"I'm still being reprimanded for protecting my children," Lowe said.

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