THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 24, 2012..........With a baby on life support, suspicions that a pregnant woman received negligent care at Florida State Hospital have cost at least two employees their jobs and led to a criminal investigation and a possible lawsuit against the state.
David Wilkins, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Thursday that the agency began investigating after the woman was taken from the state hospital by a helicopter ambulance to a Tallahassee hospital on Dec. 23 and gave birth to a boy who was placed on life support.
The woman, who had been admitted to Florida State Hospital through the state's Baker Act because of mental illness, had earlier expressed concerns about her pregnancy. While details of the baby's condition were not made public Thursday, a document provided by the department described him as "gravely ill."
Wilkins said he could not provide a detailed explanation of the woman's care because of patient-privacy laws. But he said the agency's inspector general has finished a report that could be made public as early as Friday.
"The investigation, I believe, proved that certain people did not come close to meeting our standards,'' Wilkins said.
Florida State Hospital, which is in the Gadsden County community of Chattahoochee, is the oldest mental-health facility in the state and has 1,924 employees. It cares for people who have been committed through the Baker Act and people who have been charged with crimes but are incompetent to proceed to trial.
The pregnant woman was admitted to Florida State Hospital in October and was in a ward designed to handle higher-risk patients. Wilkins said it is rare for pregnant women to be admitted to the state facility.
As a result of the episode, direct-care supervisor Eddie McMillian was terminated March 13, according to the department. Another-direct care supervisor, Maryland Clopton, resigned Feb. 1, while licensed-practical nurse Kathryn Cottle received notice Thursday of the agency's intent to dismiss her. Senior physician Rosalee Peckoo was placed on administrative leave Jan. 6 but returned to her job Thursday.
Wilkins said the agency asked the Attorney General's Office to take part in the investigation and requested that the Department of Health help determine whether hospital staff members met proper standards of care. Possible charges could be related to criminal negligence.
State Attorney Willie Meggs, whose office prosecutes cases in Gadsden County, said the Attorney General's office has been leading the criminal investigation. Charges, if any, would be filed through Meggs' office in Gadsden County.
The woman's family also has filed a notice of intent to file a civil lawsuit, a required step in cases against the state.
Along with the investigation, Wilkins said DCF has made changes at Florida State Hospital to try to improve care. For example, he said it has added a medical services director to provide more oversight of doctors and nurses.
Also, longtime hospital administrator Diane James recently announced her retirement and was replaced by Marguerite Morgan. But Wilkins said James did not step down because of the incident involving the pregnant woman.
By JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA