Pinellas Sheriff announces review of death of a 5-year-old - WFLA News Channel 8

Pinellas Sheriff announces review of death of a 5-year-old

Posted: Updated:
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL -

A review at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office prompted by the death of a five-year-old girl revealed a system failure relating to health screenings children are required to have when they are removed from a home, the sheriff said Friday.

The investigation was sparked by the death of Elizabeth Holder in January, days after she was removed from her home by child protection investigators with the sheriff's office. An autopsy report shows Holder died of a heart issue called endomyocardial fibrosis and also had tonsillitis.

Florida law requires children removed from the home to get a health screening within 72 hours, but Holder did not.

"I accept complete responsibility for this," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. "This is something we should have done."

It is still unclear whether a screening could have saved Holder.

"I don't know as we stand here today whether the failure to complete the health screening would have made a difference," Gualtieri said at a news conference.

One employee, family support worker Pam Wilson, was fired as a result of the investigation. The sheriff's office said she was terminated "for intentionally omitting and misrepresenting the facts of the case during the investigation; and for failing to enter notes pertinent to the removal of 5-year-old Elizabeth Holder."

According to a sheriff's office memo, several issues contributed to Holder not receiving a screening during those first 72 hours, including confusion over whether it was enough to "initiate" a screening rather than complete one and a lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for making sure the screening takes place.

Gualtieri also said the investigation revealed it wasn't the first time his office had not ensured that the screening was completed in time.

A review of the 884 cases in which children were removed from their homes in 2012 showed it happened 198 times, while timely reviews happened 279 times and in 169 cases reviews weren't needed because of circumstances, Gualtieri said.

In 238 cases, Gualtieri said he couldn't tell whether a screening was done on time or not because of the way information is documented at in the computer system used by the Department of Children and Families. There is no specific place to document information about the health screening requirement, he said.

DCF regional director Mike Carroll said the information can be noted elsewhere, but there is no specific tab for the health screening. He said the system works, but that "we need in general" to do a better job at documenting, which is "critical in our business."

 

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