“Completely Outdated” Child Care Inspection System Needs Fix

“It’s embarrassing, quite frankly.”

Senator Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco and San Mateo in the state senate, is referring to the state’s current system for inspecting child and elderly care facilities and disseminating that information to the public

Yee is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Services and spoke to NBC Bay Area Tuesday after a four-hour joint hearing between his committee and the Assembly Human Services Committee.

"These problems have been around for some time, and we have really put some children in harm's way," Senator Yee said.

The joint hearing was originally called to discuss the lack of oversight on senior residential living facilities after recent shutdowns of such facilities left some seniors living in dire conditions.

However, after NBC Bay Area teamed up with The Center for Investigative Reporting to expose similar issues affecting childcare centers across the state, these types of facilities became part of the conversation for improving the availability of information and the inspection process.

The NBC Bay Area and The Center for Investigative Reporting story exposed:

- California childcare facilities are inspected once every five years
- No childcare inspection information is available online
- The state’s database of inspection reports is in Lotus 1-2-3 and cannot be analyzed
- State officials have no way to track issues in daycares

At the hearing Tuesday, several panelists and witnesses -- from senior citizen advocates to the Department of Social Services -- testified on the state of the current system for inspections of senior residential care and childcare.

“I hope we don’t let this crisis go, I hope we use this as a way to put an infrastructure in place that allows more information to be shared,” said Maribeth Shannon, a healthcare advocate with California HealthCare Foundation who testified in the hearing.

Those like Shannon identified shortcomings in the current inspection system, such as the way it stores information about licensed facilities: Their database was created a quarter century ago and has never been updated. It’s still housed in the antiquated program Lotus Notes.

The department in charge vowed to get it right

“Our department wants to apologize for the mistakes of the past, they are real, they are profound,” said Will Lightbourne, Director of the California Department of Social Services. “We have learned from our mistakes.”

Lightbourne called the inspection system "completely outdated" and said the department plans on diverting resources to getting a fix and having a new basic online database by the spring. This system would allow users to get general information about a facility, find out whether or not it had a violation, and view the past three years of inspections.

One issue: Both senior and child care facilities are only inspected every five years, so this new system would not include every location.

Lightbourne admitted that it is a change that will take time and money: $20 million is his estimate.

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