AUGUSTA – Pools deeper than 4 feet at day-care facilities must have a certified lifeguard on duty. Same goes when the group takes a trip to the ocean. “Non-swimmers” must wear a Coast Guard-approved flotation device.

The rules were effective June 1. Because of them, Rose Pelletier cannot let the kids she cares for go swimming.

Pelletier runs a home-based day care out of her Lewiston home on Montello Street. For 30 years, her summer activities revolved around her 16- by 32-foot pool.

Hiring a lifeguard isn’t an option. It’s too expensive.

The lifeguard legislation was rushed after a 3-year-old boy drowned in a pool at a Westbrook child-care center in March. Rep. Timothy Driscoll, D-Westbrook, sponsored legislation, passed and signed at the beginning of the month, instructing the Department of Health and Human Services to craft emergency rules over pools at day-care facilities. The rules will be in effect for 90 days, and the department will craft permanent rules for the Legislature to review next year.

But they went too far, a group of angry child-care providers – many home-based – told DHHS officials on Monday.

About 100 people packed a meeting room set aside to hear comments on the new regulations. About a dozen of them spoke.

Things heated up during a question-and-answer session, when attendees scorned department officials and Driscoll, claiming that DHHS reacted too quickly, did not seek their input and presented vague rules on short notice.

Speakers also said another public hearing should be scheduled during evening hours to accommodate more concerned parties.

After hearing the comments, department officials agreed to hold another hearing. They promised to review the new regulations and update the Web site.

“You’re operating in panic mode,” Pelletier told Driscoll. “We’re being penalized for one death.” She said the death was attributed to negligence.

Other day-care operators expressed similar concerns.

“Many of our area small family child-care summer programs are centered around water activities and learn-to-swim programs,” said Susan Gooch, a Wilton provider. “We are not opposed to reasonable regulation, including the use of personal flotation devices for children and specialized training for providers.”

She offered other alternatives, setting distances between a provider and child while swimming, depth restrictions paralleling the child’s height and requiring providers to take a water-safety course.

Mexico provider Janet Touchette noted that a lifeguard can be a teenager.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a 15-year-old out there with the children,” Touchette said.

Adult lifeguards want to be paid $20 an hour, she said, adding that she can’t afford that, and she also doesn’t want to go in the pool with children because she can supervise better from the sidelines.

“It’s a disgrace to our children,” she said.

Watch for updates on the swimming pool regulations at: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/dlrs/


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