New records show Connecticut weight-loss camp had complaints, violations days before it shut down - Danbury News Times
The days between included a camp inspection by the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) that found multiple substantiated violations, at least one call with the camp owner, and at least two complaints about the camp, according to new records obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media. The records are part of a joint ongoing investigation by the OEC and Department of Children and Families and shed light on what prompted the investigation to be opened.
Between the issuing of the license and the shutdown of the camp, the OEC made a visit and found multiple violations during a July 8 inspection, the report stated. The July 8 investigation was prompted at least in-part by a follow-up phone call with a counselor on July 7 following the July 2 visit, according to a note added to the end of the original investigation summary.
At this time, the counselor told the investigator the camp was disorganized and she was quitting that day.
At least two more complaints came in July 8, the same day the investigator visited camp, and records show multiple accusations - including some tied to medical oversight - were found to be substantiated.
Two days later, camp owner David Ettenberg, would tell an OEC staff member in a phone call he was shutting the camp down due to staffing concerns, according to a summary of phone calls from the OEC. The communication of the decision came the same day an 8-year-old girl suffered a severe head injury, according to medical records.
“David stated that he is going to be closing the camp down because there have been issues,” a summary of the phone call by an Office of Early Childhood staffer states. “He stated they cannot keep counselors as they are quitting and that the OEC knows of other issues. They require staff stay on site and after one week they want to get off site. The last day of camp will be Tuesday. He was going to report this to the OEC but he didn’t know anyone was working the weekend.”
Ettenberg could not be reached for comment for this story. In a previous interview, Ettenberg also cited a staff shortage.
“Nobody got sick, but the staff quit, and you cannot find anybody. And then it occurred to me [that] something dangerous could happen,” he said in July.
On July 11, Ettenberg notified parents the camp would be shutting down for the summer, according to an email obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, recommending plans be made to pick up the children at the camp or accomodations be made to fly them home. The next day, the Office of Early Childhood would refer the investigation to the agency’s legal division citing “multiple complaints with serious allegations.”
Although not all of the allegations investigated earlier that month based on complaints were substantiated, several were cited in the referral including Ettenberg not being consistently on site, no doctor or nurse being on site and that regulations were not being followed.
The investigation into Camp Shane is ongoing, a spokesperson from Office of Early Childhood said.
Concerns about medical and child care oversight
The OEC logged 10 complaints against the Kent weight-loss camp from parents, a family member, and at least one counselor starting on July 8 and carrying on until July 23, investigation records show.
A summary of the first complaint from July 8 reads, in part: “Person emailing is concerned that the camp owner, David Ettenberg, is not consistently on site and that he does not know the staff,” and “is also concerned that children are not properly receiving their medications.” The complaint also addressed medications, although there were redactions. In 2019, the camp had violations tied to both documentation of policies and medical oversight, according to Office of Early Childhood records.
Ettenberg subsequently submitted a corrective action plan addressing the violations, according to a Nov. 13, 2019 letter sent from the state to Ettenberg detailing the 2019 investigation’s completion.
During a July 10 phone call, Ettenberg would tell investigators that he had been at the camp “all week until Friday night when he drove home” to New York. He added that he would be going back to the camp the next day.
The second complaint came from a mother on the same day, saying she had removed her daughter from camp and “reports that several other parents are doing the same.”
Also on July 8, around noon, an OEC staff member visited the camp to perform another complaint investigation. The four-page investigation report said 54 children and 14 staff were present.
The handwritten report notes that “staff member did not have personal qualities to work with children at camp when she became [REDACTED] during camp and could not function as first aid director.” It goes on to list that “operator failed to ensure health of campers when campers did not receive [REDACTED] as directed for [REDACTED].”
The investigator also wrote that the camp failed to have all incidences of medical treatment documented in a log or record, with time and dose not documented. The investigator observed “small baggies” that were labeled with names, medications, and dosages, but were not in their original containers. The camp also did not have first aid instructions signed by a physician.
Following this visit to Camp Shane, the OEC asked for a corrective plan to be filed by July 22— two weeks later.
The OEC performed two more follow-up visits on July 12, and again on July 14, as the number of campers and counselors dwindled until there were none left during the July 14 visit.
Yet, investigators continued to find violations up until the day before camp officially shut down: “Operator failed to have an approved camp director on site from Friday afternoon through the weekend of July 9-11, 2021,” the July 12 report reads.
It also says the operator “failed to provide requested contact information for parents of campers involved in investigation pending consult with attorney.”
That same day, the case was referred to the OEC’s legal division.
Camp Shane shuts down
In the four days between the July 8 inspection and OEC’s decision to refer the case to the legal division, a different kind of complaint call came in.
When the camp’s fifth complaint came in to OEC, it wasn’t a worried parent, but a counselor calling to report a serious head injury. The child’s parents provided documents to Hearst Connecticut Media that showed she sustained a skull and orbital fracture, a nose fracture and a concusion while playing soccer on a tennis court.
“Counselor reports that he called 911 after being told not to call,” the OEC case report says.
In a document titled “Summary of Calls made on 7/10/21,” there are more details about a young girl’s head injury and Ettenberg’s response.
Although his name is redacted, the counselor detailed the events of the morning to the OEC.
“[REDACTED] told him not to call 911 but he called anyway. He knew it was really bad and there was bleeding. [REDACTED] told him to get the ‘F’ away when he was trying to tend to the girl and give the 911 operator information,” the summary says.
By the time the OEC called Ettenberg, he knew about the incident and had decided to shut camp down.
“Mr Ettenberg reported that mid-morning today campers were playing ‘hockey’ and an eight-year-old girl was [REDACTED]. The child was taken to Danbury Trauma Hospital and the mother was called. The father is a surgeon,” the summary says.
Ettenberg was at home in New York at the time of the call. When the investigator told Ettenberg he could not be away from the camp, he told her he would go back the next day.
That next day, July 11, Ettenberg sent an email to parents announcing the shutdown. The camp officially closed on July 13.
“We were optimistic that we could run a terrific and safe camp this season after having been closed down by the pandemic,” the email stated. “However, we — like the rest of the country — are finding that staffing is a crisis. We started the season in good shape staffingwise but, as is common, we lost a few staff — some because they weren’t happy to stay quarantined as required — and now we cannot replace them. We simply cannot find sufficient staff to continue.”
On July 12, the OEC investigations office referred the case to its legal division with 20 substantiated violations. The document shows that the camp had corrective action plans pending and staff had checked a box saying “DCF pending.”
DCF said they could not release investigation documents to Hearst Connecticut Media because they pertained to “information created or obtained in connection with the department’s child protection activities” and thus were “confidential and are excluded from disclosure under FOIA.”
A spokesperson from OEC would not comment further because of the ongoing investigation into the camp.