Fam­ily still in dark about daugh­ter’s in­jury in day care

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to a hospi­tal, New York State sus­pended Mozee’s Ul­ti­mate Fam­ily Day­care’s li­cense, forc­ing it to close, and cited it for sev­eral vi­o­la­tions. The state’s Of­fice of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices al­leged the group fam­ily day care was un­der­staffed, lacked a staff mem­ber cer­ti­fied in CPR and first aid, and failed to ar­range for the trans­porta­tion of a child in need of emer­gency med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

But op­er­a­tor De­siree “Deb­bie” Mozee is now try­ing to re­open the busi­ness, lo­cated in her res­i­dence at 83 Glen­wood Ave. An ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge will de­ter­mine whether the state re­in­states or re­vokes Mozee’s li­cense.

Mala­nia’s par­ents, who tes­ti­fied at the hear­ing, said they were told a de­ci­sion is ex­pected next month.

“The day care should not be al­lowed to re­open. They are not trust­wor­thy,” said Che­vere while hold­ing his daugh­ter, nick­named “LaLa,” in his lap as she drew squig­gly lines on pa­per in their East Side home.

The cou­ple sued De­siree Mozee and the day care in Jan­uary, al­leg­ing her neg­li­gence caused the in­jury. De­siree Mozee de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

Her mother, a for­mer em­ployee at the day care, in­sisted Mala­nia must have been in­jured be­fore she ar­rived there. Mary Mozee ex­plained that she was not present at the day care July 23, but she talked

with her son, who was the only adult work­ing in the day care that day.

800,000 in day care

Every work­day, par­ents in New York State place as many as 800,000 chil­dren in the hands of 19,000 li­censed day-care providers, de­pend­ing on them to keep their chil­dren safe.

In Erie and Ni­a­gara coun­ties, there are 661 li­censed fa­cil­i­ties.

Since 2018, the state has sus­pended or re­voked the li­censes of 11 Erie County day cares, in­clud­ing Mozee’s, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of Fam­ily and Chil­dren Ser­vices’ on­line records. No day cares in Ni­a­gara County have had sus­pen­sions or re­vo­ca­tions.

State law re­quires the Of­fice of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices con­duct an­nual in­spec­tions of “at least 50 per­cent” of the li­censed day cares. Ma­haf­fey said all day cares are held to the same health and safety stan­dards, re­gard­less of their size.

Ma­haf­fey de­clined to com­ment on a March 15 hear­ing on whether Mozee’s day care can re­open.

The day it hap­pened

Mala­nia’s par­ents said they put her in the day care be­cause of El­liott’s em­ploy­ment and Che­vere’s dis­abil­i­ties. About four years ago, doc­tors am­pu­tated his lower right leg af­ter a blood clot set­tled in the limb.

Che­vere said he also suf­fers from a heart con­di­tion.

The par­ents say they are cer­tain that their daugh­ter was healthy when De­siree Mozee picked her up at 6 a.m. July 23.

At 3 p.m., El­liott says she re­ceived a phone call from De­siree Mozee in­form­ing her Mala­nia was not feel­ing well.

“Deb­bie told me that her brother James had told her LaLa had slept all day and wouldn’t eat for him,” El­liott said, re­fer­ring to Mozee’s brother James J. Mozee Jr.

De­siree Mozee was not at the day care. She was work­ing at her full-time job as a coun­selor at Erie County Med­i­cal Cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to child’s par­ents. Un­der 2014 re­vi­sions of state day care laws, the li­cense holder of a group fam­ily day care must be on the premises. Be­cause De­siree Mozee re­ceived her li­cense in 2012, she is ex­empted from that re­quire­ment.

Mary Mozee also con­firmed that her daugh­ter was work­ing at ECMC that day.

El­liott said she tele­phoned James Mozee at the day care. “He told me Mala­nia slept most of the day and wouldn’t eat.”

At about 3:30 p.m., De­siree Mozee called El­liott again, this time from the day care.

“She was scream­ing that Mala­nia had ‘a big old bruise on her head.’ She said she had to call an am­bu­lance,” El­liott said.

“James Mozee never said any­thing about the bruise on her head when I called him,” El­liott said. “Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”

When the par­ents ar­rived at the day care, they found Mozee and a po­lice of­fi­cer stand­ing out­side.

“I yelled from my truck, ‘What hap­pened?’ Deb­bie said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” El­liott re­called.

Four-hour surgery

At Oishei Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, doc­tors in­formed them their daugh­ter was in crit­i­cal con­di­tion and im­me­di­ate surgery was nec­es­sary.

To re­lieve pres­sure from the bleed­ing in the child’s brain, doc­tors cut away a sec­tion of her skull and placed it in her ab­domen, El­liott said.

A hospi­tal doc­u­ment de­scribed the na­ture of Mala­nia’s in­jury as “nonac­ci­den­tal.” Another hospi­tal record de­tailed it as “a right-sided sub­du­ral hem­or­rhage” that caused par­tial dis­place­ment of her brain.

Fol­low­ing the four-hour surgery, Mala­nia re­mained in a med­i­cally in­duced coma for a week, her par­ents said.

On July 31, Mala­nia turned 2 and her fam­ily cel­e­brated with a birth­day party in her hospi­tal room, fill­ing it with bal­loons and gifts. She re­mained in her crib par­a­lyzed on her left side.

“I just prayed and prayed and prayed,” El­liott said. Her prayers were soon an­swered. Doc­tors reat­tached the child’s skull. Two days be­fore Mala­nia was dis­charged on Sept. 5, the tod­dler started walk­ing.

Par­ents have sus­pi­cions

El­liott and Che­vere say the only in­for­ma­tion they have re­ceived on how Mala­nia was in­jured came days af­ter the in­ci­dent from a Buf­falo po­lice de­tec­tive.

“The de­tec­tive told us another child around Mala­nia’s age had pushed her,” Che­vere said.

El­liott said she dis­cov­ered a black and blue mark on her daugh­ter’s right leg at the hospi­tal fol­low­ing the surgery. The mother said she be­lieves that in­jury was also part of what­ever hap­pened to her daugh­ter.

The case re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Buf­falo po­lice, ac­cord­ing to Lt. David Mann, who de­clined to say if po­lice be­lieve another tod­dler caused Mala­nia’s in­jury.

On March 11, The Buf­falo News filed a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest with the Of­fice of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices for doc­u­ments per­tain­ing to the case. A state records ac­cess of­fi­cer said the agency has made no de­ci­sion on the re­quest.

At­tor­ney Wil­liam Moore of the Buf­falo law firm Lip­sitz Green Scime Cam­bria says Mala­nia’s par­ents, whom he is rep­re­sent­ing, de­serve to know the full story.

“Their beau­ti­ful healthy child gets picked up by the owner of the day care and the next phone call they re­ceive is that their child is non­re­spon­sive,” Moore said. “No par­ent should get that call.”

The par­ents’ law­suit against De­siree Mozee and the day care al­leges the in­jury was the re­sult of the day care owner’s “neg­li­gence, care­less, reck­less and/or un­law­ful con­duct.” It also ac­cuses Mozee of fail­ing to “pro­vide proper and ad­e­quate su­per­vi­sion.”

The Mozees

De­siree Mozee, 54, is li­censed to op­er­ate a group fam­ily day care in her two-story res­i­dence at Glen­wood and Michi­gan av­enues. Her li­cense al­lows for up to 12 chil­dren, rang­ing from 6 weeks to 12 years of age, and two ad­di­tional school-aged chil­dren.

The li­cense in­for­ma­tion lists James Mozee, 61, as the day care’s con­tact per­son.

Mary Mozee said her son was “be­tween jobs” and work­ing at the day care.

Like Mala­nia’s par­ents, Mary Mozee said the re­port of another child shov­ing Mala­nia and caus­ing her in­jury doesn’t add up.

“My daugh­ter brought her to the day care that day and car­ried her into the house. She was tired and sleepy,” Mary Mozee said. “My son said she slept all day.”

“There was another lit­tle kid there and the same height as the girl and would not have had the strength to cause that kind of in­jury,” she said.

She also pointed out that the chil­dren in the day care are kept in a din­ing room area where the floor is car­peted and there is no fur­ni­ture to bump into.

Dr. Gre­gory J. Castiglia, a clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­surgery at the Uni­ver­sity at Buf­falo Ja­cobs School of Medicine and Bio­med­i­cal Sci­ences who is not in­volved in Mala­nia’s treat­ment, said it would not take an ex­treme amount of force to cause a brain in­jury in a young child.

Speak­ing gen­er­ally, Castiglia said that when a child’s head rapidly ac­cel­er­ates and then abruptly stops the force in­side the skull can cause veins to break.

“It doesn’t take much to gen­er­ate a force sig­nif­i­cant enough to cause the in­jury,” Castiglia said. Still, the state found fault with Mozee’s day care im­me­di­ately af­ter Mala­nia was hurt.

Mozee’s was cited for fail­ing to have two care­givers when more than six chil­dren not old enough to at­tend school were present. Mozee’s also failed to have at least one care­giver for every two chil­dren less than 2 years old.

Mozee’s did not pro­vide “com­pe­tent su­per­vi­sion” and an “aware­ness and re­spon­si­bil­ity for the on­go­ing ac­tiv­ity of each child” and, if needed, re­di­rect the ac­tiv­i­ties of a child, the state al­leged.

This was not the first time the day care had been cited. Ear­lier in 2018 and in 2017, it had been cited for sim­i­lar staffing vi­o­la­tions. State records show that those in­frac­tions were cor­rected.

El­liott and Che­vere said they had been led to be­lieve by the Mozees that there were al­ways two care­givers staffing the day care.

“I never knew there was only one per­son work­ing there un­til af­ter LaLa was in­jured,” El­liott said.

A long re­cov­ery

Back home with her par­ents and two older sis­ters, 11 and 14, Mala­nia con­tin­ues to re­cover.

She vis­its the hospi­tal once a week for phys­i­cal ther­apy and a teacher comes to the home once a week to work with her on words and other cog­ni­tive skills.

Her words are some­times gar­bled, but that does not stop her ask­ing for pa­per to draw on or talk­ing with vis­i­tors. Mala­nia also bois­ter­ously dances about the liv­ing room of the fam­ily’s apart­ment near Wil­liam Street.

“Her left side is still weak,” Che­vere said as he watches over her. “You can see the fin­gers on her left hand curl in.”

There are other re­minders of what Mala­nia has been through: On the right side of her head be­hind her ear is a mas­sive scar where the sec­tion of skull was re­moved.

El­liott and Che­vere said De­siree Mozee and James Mozee ex­pressed no re­morse for what hap­pened to their daugh­ter at the March 15 hear­ing on the day care li­cense sus­pen­sion.

“They didn’t look at us and they did not of­fer an apol­ogy,” Che­vere said.

Che­vere said he now re­fuses to send Mala­nia back to any day care.

“I watch her. I won’t even let her go with fam­ily,” he said. “I’m just too ner­vous she’ll get hurt again.”

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

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