Lawsuit: Baby disabled by day care’s neglect

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — A once-popular Ottawa County day care that closed last year after an abuse investigation is now facing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit over allegations a baby nearly died while left face-down in a pillow.

The family of Elias Van Lente, now 20 months old, claims negligence by the former Rainbow Child Care Center in Allendale has left him permanently disabled.

“His brain injury is severe enough that he will always be dependent on others,” his family’s attorney, Genie Eardley, told 24 Hour News 8.

Elias was 3 months old on Feb. 19, 2018, when his mom dropped him off at the day care center, according to the lawsuit filed this week in Ottawa County Circuit Court.

“Prior to this incident, he was a normal, healthy 3-month-old,” Eardley said.

The lawsuit, filed by the boy’s parents, Adam and Lindsey Van Lente, claims Elias was among 11 children in an infant room with only two caregivers — a violation of state law.

That’s where, according to the lawsuit, a worker lay Elias on his stomach on a Boppy Newborn Lounger, a pillow for infants.

“They’re kind of like a round pillow, soft, they had a big sign on it that said do not place small infant face-down on this pillow, and one of the child care workers there did exactly that, left him there,” Eardley said.

Up to 20 minutes later, another worker noticed Elias motionless and still face down, turning blue and not breathing, according to the lawsuit.

He was too young to turn over on his own, the lawsuit states.

A care worker called 911, and Elias was rushed to the hospital.

“He was seizing, eyes rolling back in his head, so, yeah, he got very close to not making it,” the attorney said. “It’s really a miracle he survived.”

A medical life care plan, created by a doctor, estimates how much it will cost to care for Elias over his lifetime.

“Depending on the different numbers you look at, it’s somewhere between $20 million and $33 million, minimum,” the attorney said. “That would include constant care for the rest of his life.”

“He can’t hold himself up,” she said. “Even though he’s almost 2, he can only say three or four words, so he’s developmentally delayed. He crawls, but he can’t stand on his own or walk. He’ll never be employable. He’ll never go to school and have an actual job.”

The investigation into Elias’s injury led detectives to uncover unrelated allegations that a worker at the day care had physically abused three children. 

That led the state to temporarily suspend the day care’s license in March 2018. It hasn’t reopened.

The worker, Keyonia Ratliff, was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a year of probation after pleading guilty to assault.

Oregon-based KinderCare Education bought Rainbow’s 150 child care centers in 16 states in August 2018.

“Although this situation happened prior to KinderCare’s acquisition of Rainbow Child Care Centers, the safety of children is one of our highest priorities. We never want to see a child hurt,” KinderCare spokeswoman Colleen Moran wrote in a statement. “While we haven’t yet been served with this suit, as soon as we receive the paperwork we will respond to the suit appropriately.”

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