Monday, October 26, 2020
Oct. 26, 2020

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State revokes license of day care where boy contracted E.coli

Owners of Hazel Dell in-home center said they will appeal


The Hazel Dell in-home day care where a 4-year-old boy contracted a fatal bacterial infection in April has had its state license permanently revoked.

Dianne and Larry Fletch had operated the day care for more than 20 years. Their license was suspended in April while the state Department of Early Learning proceeded with an investigation.

Ronan Wilson, 4, the son of Anthony and Bonnie Wilson of Hazel Dell, died April 8 after a week at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. Other children and adults who had been in the home were sickened.

Ronan’s death was the first from E.coli in Clark County since at least 1988.

Darcy Taylor, licensing supervisor for the Department of Early Learning, sent Dianne Fletch a seven-page letter explaining her decision to revoke the license. The letter was dated May 21, but the state announced the revocation on Thursday after receiving confirmation the Fletches had received the letter, which had been sent by registered mail.

Larry Fletch said he and his wife are appealing the decision and will have a hearing later this month in front of an administrative law judge. He said he did not feel comfortable commenting further on the case, except to say they’ve received tremendous support from the families whose children had been in their care.

Bonnie Wilson told The Columbian on April 24 that Ronan loved attending the center, as did his older brother, Gavin. “I feel like she’s family,” Bonnie said of Dianne Fletch. “I really think they did their best.”

According to Taylor’s letter, among the factors contributing to the decision to revoke the license: the Fletches waited too long to contact the Clark County Health Department after children started becoming ill; they used diapering procedures contrary to state regulations; they did not have adequate records for one of the children at the day care center; and they had previous citations for operating overcapacity (they were licensed for 12 children).

“Your family home has had a history of not being in compliance of the minimum licensing regulations,” Taylor wrote.

Ronan died after his body was overtaken by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Doctors tried treating the havoc wreaked on Ronan’s body by the bacteria, which affected his kidneys and colon before destroying large sections of his brain.

14 total infections

When Bonnie Wilson first took Ronan to a doctor on March 29, the doctor assumed the boy had the flu because he did not have the bloody diarrhea that’s symptomatic of E.coli. By the time that symptom appeared, on April 1, Ronan was rushed to Doernbecher and put on dialysis.

Three other people from the day care were hospitalized but recovered, and an additional 10 people had positive stool cultures with mild symptoms, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer.

Melnick said Thursday he will probably never know how the E.coli was introduced into the day care. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, E. coli O157:H7 is the most common toxin-producing bacteria in North America. The original source of an infection is often cattle manure, which can enter the body through undercooked hamburger or unpasteurized milk or fruit juices.

Melnick said it appears that the infection was spread by person-to-person contact, rather than a food source.

In the revocation letter, Taylor wrote that an infant who tested positive for E.coli had diarrhea for 10 days.

“The infant was identified as being one of the first children to exhibit symptoms of E.coli, and may have been the source of the illness being introduced to your child care home,” Taylor wrote.

Taylor said that diarrhea is among symptoms that should keep children from attending day care.

In her conclusion, Taylor wrote, “Based upon these facts and circumstances, at this time, the Department cannot ensure that children in your care will be safe and secure or that you will follow the licensing requirements.”