A youth camp in South Kent that voluntarily surrendered its license in August failed to ensure the health and safety of its campers, according to a state investigation. The operator was also fined $1,500 for opening without the proper license.
NBC Connecticut Investigates spoke exclusively with concerned parents and a camp employee about the problems.
In July, parents were trying to bring their kids home from Camp Shane in South Kent after being informed the camp was shutting down just weeks into the summer session. It was those campers’ alleged experiences at camp that prompted a joint investigation by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) and the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
Camp Closes Amid State Investigation
A camp in Kent closed abruptly Tuesday as two state agencies stepped in to investigate it.
“If you look at their website and look at the staff that was supposed to be there. I feel so negligent even sending my child there,” said Megan Thompson, who lives in Plymouth, Mass.
For decades, Camp Shane has prided itself as a fun, family-owned, one-of-a-kind medically supervised weight loss camp for kids with locations around the country. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the camp opened only one location for summer 2021, at the South Kent School.
But Thompson and other parents told NBC Connecticut the camp did not live up to its promises.
“I thought it was (staffed by) medical professionals,” said Ramona Schwartz from Ashville, NC. “I sent him with needles (for his medication) and everything.”
Thompson said what she witnessed when she picked up her 16-year-old was startling.
“There wasn't an adult to be seen. All these medications that were just out in the bathrooms, someone's medications just sitting around, all these things that should not be around children,” she said.
Thompson said she took a photo of pill bottles on a bathroom sink, which she shared with state investigators.
In its final investigation report, the OEC noted “multiple violations relate to medications,” including “four prescriptions of controlled substances” left unattended.
Investigators also found campers were not properly supervised at all times.
When Camp Shane closed in July, NBC Connecticut spoke with camp founder and director David Ettenberg, who blamed the early closure on lack of staff. Ettenberg said staff members kept quitting due to the camp’s Covid-19 protocols, which didn’t allow them to leave the grounds.
“Devastating, really devastating. I love this camp. I love the kids. I know that parents are really, really relying on us,” he said then.
NBC Connecticut followed up with Ettenberg several times since then about the allegations made by parents. He responded in an email writing, “Wow! All wrong,” but did not elaborate or return further requests for comment.
Pamela Artigas of Florida was the first parent to reach out to NBC Connecticut Investigates. She picked her daughter up after she said an overwhelmed camp counselor called her about a medical issue her daughter experienced after hours of exercise.
Artigas said her daughter told her she did not feel safe at camp.
Bella D’Ambrosio is the employee who called Artigas.
“There is no doctor, no nurse,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to ask for the simplest requirements of safety and protocol for these children from my staff.”
D’Ambrosio said she was hired as a camp director just days before camp opened this summer, and said she quit within days of witnessing the disorder. She contacted the Office of Early Childhood with her concerns.
“If I stayed, I was condoning the treatment at which camp was being run for these children,” she said.
A state inspector made an unannounced visit to Camp Shane on July 8 in response to a complaint. Five days and a dozen complaints later, the OEC announced a joint investigation with DCF. The camp shut its doors that same day.
During its investigation, the state learned an 8-year-old girl received serious injuries while at camp.
When asked by NBC Connecticut about the incident, Ettenberg said four adults were present when the camper fell and an athletic goal post fell on her. But the state’s report said, “staff could not identify what exactly occurred.”
Camp Shane relocated to Pomfret, Conn. in 2019, after decades of operating in New York. Camp Shane previously operated in other locations around the country as well. For the 2021 session, the camp moved to the South Kent School.
NBC Connecticut Investigates looked at the camp’s licensing records from 2019, which showed Camp Shane was required to come up with a corrective action plan in response to several violations. Ettenberg attributed this to getting accustomed to operating in a new state.
In July, NBC Connecticut asked Ettenberg if he thought opening camp this summer was in the best interest of the campers.
“They were missing activities yes, but they were always, always, always safe. And really not until the last bunch of days, the kids were happy,” he said.
State investigators concluded, ”Overall, the operator of this camp opened and accepted campers without preparing for the camp season. There was no leadership, minimum staffing, no specialists, and no preparation for the needs of the campers. Serious medical needs of the campers were not met when the operator failed to provide anyone trained to provide the necessary medications, failed to prepare the staff for emergency situations, and failed to seek medical assistance from trained professionals in a timely manner.”
According to OEC’s investigation report, at the time he surrendered his license, Ettenberg denied any wrongdoing.