They operate largely under the radar, as NY1 has reported, so-called maternity hotels in Queens for women practicing the Chinese custom of spending a month after childbirth recovering.
The history of the Ping An Jia Yuan Family Care Center on 136th Street in Flushing highlights the lack of any real government oversight of this industry.
In June 2018, a newborn died there. Five years ago, a police source says, a worker was arrested on an assault charge. And an employee at a satellite site seven blocks away filed and later settled a lawsuit charging wage theft.
"Who's watching out for these babies? The newborns? Who's watching out for the mothers? Who's ensuring that the people taking care of them have the right training, the right personalities and are fit to do the job,” said Dr. Andrew Ditchik, the Associate Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Elmhurst Hospital.
The answer, NY1 found, appears to be no one.
Consider the Ping An Jia Yuan or "Safe Garden" in Mandarin. Police responding to a 911 call June 16 found three-day-old Joyce Liang unconscious and unresponsive. The Medical Examiner says the cause of death is still being investigated. Police say they do not consider the death suspicious, and no charges were filed.
Neighbors tell us they believe the center is still operating, because they still see pregnant women entering and leaving.
If this were a licensed day care site, officials tell us, the city Health Department would have investigated to determine if the death could have been prevented. However, because maternity hotels are not considered day-care or health-care facilities under the law, no Health Department review was triggered.
It was not the first time police responded to the site. Police sources tell us in 2013, a nanny there was charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child. She allegedly hit and threw a new mother to the ground as the mom was holding her 7-day-old baby. The victim told police she paid $5,000 a month to stay there. It is not clear how the charges were resolved. The Queens District Attorney's Office tells us it could find no record of the case under the defendant's name in the police report.
In a lawsuit four years ago, a former nanny at center's second site alleged she worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week, initially for $50 dollars a day: the equivalent of $4.16 an hour. Her lawyer says she settled for $10,000. There was no admission of wrongdoing.
According to online advertising, both Ping An Jia Yuan locations now operate under the name, Xi Bao, which means Happy Baby.
We attempted to reach the owner at her home.
When we asked a woman at the door whether she cares for babies, she answered yes, but told us to speak to the owner.
The owner then came to the door and denied even knowing about a maternity center.
The woman’s lawyer did not return repeated emails requesting comment.
A state senator says government must step in.
"There should be some sort of oversight and regulatory framework set up. where consumers and the general public are made aware of these kinds of services, what kinds of standards they should uphold. And also from a worker perspective, obviously many of the women who work in these centers are woefully underpaid and severely overworked,” said State Senator John Liu, who represents the area.
A new legislative session just began in Albany. Legislation providing oversight of maternity hotels has not yet been introduced.