The mother was picking up her 2-year-old at a Miami daycare center on a Friday afternoon when a staffer there handed her a sheet of paper with a stark warning: “Don’t Ignore the Signs of Meningitis.” And that was it.
“She said it was ‘informational,’ ” said the mother, who asked that her name not be made public. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
Two days later, on Dec. 3, a 22-month-old boy who attended the day care center was dead of suspected meningitis. The flier went out to parents on the same day state regulators visited the YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Childcare Center for what was listed on forms as a routine inspection.
Now parents see the events as a subtle opening to a terrifying drama after another child from the YWCA center died of what doctors are calling pneumonia. State regulators are in the midst of an investigation to see whether the fatalities are connected to the downtown Miami facility.
The YWCA, which operates the center at Miami-Dade’s Stephen P. Clark Government Center, did not respond to written questions about the meningitis flier distributed to some parents Dec. 1. Representatives of the state health department were also not available for interviews Thursday.
Three parents of children who attend the center said they weren’t told of any concerns about meningitis on Dec. 1 when the flier — which warns “meningitis can kill in hours” — was distributed. One mother said she didn’t even get the flier until Monday, while another said it was placed in her child’s backpack on Dec. 1. Her husband picked up their daughter that Friday afternoon, and was told: “We put something in her backpack for Mom to read,” according to the mother and another parent there that day.
A fourth parent, who, like the other parents, did not want to be identified while discussing the facility that takes care of her child, said a daycare worker did fill her in about a potential problem when she handed her the flier on Dec. 1. “They said a child was sick,” she said. “And to take precautions.”
The YWCA issued a statement this week saying all of the surviving children from the center who have been checked by doctors have also been cleared of medical issues that might be related to meningitis.
“The entire YWCA family is heartbroken by the loss of these precious lives and offer our sincere condolences to their parents, families, and friends,” read the statement. “The health, safety, and well-being of our YWCA families and staff are our greatest concern.”
In interviews, parents described frustration at the fleeting nature of information at the daycare center: with some staffers sharing what they had heard, but management being more circumspect. A letter from the state health department sent to parents on Dec. 7 only stated that a child from the YWCA center “was recently diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis” but did not reveal the child had died four days earlier.
State officials were at the center on Dec. 7 and available to meet with parents. Dr. Reynald Jean, head of epidemiology in the state health department’s Miami-Dade office, said in an interview this week that it was clear by then that parents were well aware of the boy’s death. (The second boy did not die until Dec. 10.) “This is the standard letter we send out,” he said of the written notice to parents.
“We told the parents the child had passed,” Jean said of the Dec. 7 meeting. “But they definitely knew about it.”
Though the state offered information in person on Dec. 7, parents said in interviews that the YWCA offered no notice that experts would be on hand to answer questions.
“If you were there complaining, or dropping off your child, you were welcome,” said a different mother, who also has a 2-year-old attending the center. “It wasn’t announced or posted or anything.”