Daycare makes transportation changes after child's death

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC) - Changes are coming to Ascent Children's Health Services in West Memphis after 5-year-old Christopher Gardner, Jr died earlier this month in a van while in the facility's care.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services has come out with corrective action plans for both Ascent and a transportation contractor.

Four Ascent employees were charged with manslaughter in connection to the child's death in the van.

An Atlanta company named Southeastrans was contracted to provide the transportation for children at Ascent. The service was paid for by Medicaid. Southeastrans subcontracted the job to Ascent (allowing Ascent to use its own means to transport the children), but that won't be allowed to continue.

"We will no longer allow Ascent to transport children after Friday. We've also implemented measures with Southeastrans to ensure that something like this doesn't occur again," said Brandi Hinkle with Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Southeastrans is now subject to a 13-point corrective action plan which includes increased inspection of van alarms, increased monitoring at child care facilities, and scheduled parent meetings regarding safety.

Arkansas DHS said Southeastrans will still be responsible for getting children to Medicaid-funded therapy at Ascent West Memphis. However, Southeastrans cannot subcontract the responsibility to Ascent. It can still subcontract the job to another company, just not Ascent.

The state of Arkansas also sent a letter to Ascent leadership notifying them the license at their West Memphis facility would be converted to a probationary provisional license for a year.

The state was also going to stop all transportation at some Ascent facilities, but Ascent voluntarily agreed to end all its transportation, including after school services, and contract it out.

Announced inspections have also been stepped up at childcare facilities across Arkansas in response to 5-year-old Christopher Gardner Junior's death in that Ascent West Memphis van.

We are doing more frequent unannounced site visits and monitoring the ways in which they care for the children and how they get them on and off the vehicles," said Hinkle.

Ascent CEO Dan Sullivan released the following statement about the changes DHS is enacting:

"Ascent has been, and will continue to work cooperatively with various state and regulatory agencies in this matter. We are going to transition transportation services for our clients to local Medicaid Transport providers. We will work to make this transition as seamless as possible for our clients as we continue in our efforts to meet their needs and provide the quality services they require."

Southeastrans CEO Rob Zachrich released the following statement about the changes DHS is enacting:

"We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of Christopher Gardner, and our heartfelt prayers go out to his grieving family. Southeastrans, Inc. is working closely with the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) in an effort to facilitate a seamless transition following the termination of Ascent as a transportation provider. We will continue to assist DHS and the State in any way possible, and we fully support any further investigation into this matter."

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