Child care center’s license suspended after infant’s death

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has suspended operations of an in-home child care center in Albert Lea pending a police investigation.

The suspension follows the death of a 3-month-old boy Friday who attended the day care facility. According to police, the baby was reportedly brought into Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea last Wednesday evening after he was having trouble breathing. He died at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

According to the state licensing divison’s website, the license for Suzanne Rechtzigel is listed as being under “temporary immediate suspension.”

The website states this type of suspension is issued “based on immediate risk of harm.”

Freeborn County Human Services Director Brian Buhmann said the suspension went into effect Tuesday after following state safety procedures.

Rechtzigel defended her innocence.

“They haven’t finished the investigation, so I feel it’s not right and it’s not correct,” she said.

Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said Monday though there were no obvious signs of foul play, the department is investigating the death based on the child’s age. Authorities are awaiting the results of the autopsy.

Rechtzigel said a mother who picked up her child at the same time as the baby’s parents told police the baby looked “perfectly healthy” when he left Rechtzigel’s house at about 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Rechtzigel, who has done in-home child care for 30 years, said the child wasn’t taken into the emergency room until about 6 p.m. She questioned what took place in the more than four hours after the baby was out of her care.

“I claim I am innocent,” she said. “It didn’t happen here.”

The baby’s parents could not be reached for comment.

Rechtzigel’s child care center was licensed to care for 12 children, with no more than 10 children under school age. Of the 10 children, no more than two could be infants or toddlers.

Buhmann said as the suspension is now in place, families who used Rechtzigel’s care are shuffling to find new child care for their children. He said all of the impacted families have been notified of the suspension.

A press release about a similar suspension at a Brooklyn Center child care center in February stated “temporary immediate suspension” is the most serious licensing sanction that can be taken against a child care center. Unlike other sanctions, this suspension takes effect immediately, with the appeal being heard after the center is closed, rather than before.

The suspension of the Brooklyn Center facility was only the third such action the department had issued in more than 10 years to a child care center in Minnesota, according to the release.

Rechtzigel has a right to appeal the local decision but may not operate her program.

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