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Two days before the first of two children at a downtown Miami childcare center died of suspected meningitis, state health inspectors made an ominous finding: the daycare had no place to isolate sick children from healthy ones.
The Department of Children & Families gave the daycare, the YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Childcare Center, 30 days to correct the deficiency. But on Dec. 3, a 22-month-old boy died from an illness that was initially thought to be pneumonia. A second child, a 2-year-old boy, died a week later — after also being first diagnosed with pneumonia.
Florida health officials confirmed Wednesday that one of the two children tested positive for pneumococcal meningitis, an infectious disease caused by a common bacteria that spreads through sneezing, coughing and direct contact with the saliva or mucus of infected persons.
The second child also is suspected of having contracted meningitis. But because the child died outside of the country, said Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, state officials have been unable to confirm with laboratory testing whether the second child also had meningitis.
“We’re in the midst of that investigation at this point,” said Gambineri, who added that the daycare’s administrators had asked the agency and the Department of Children & Families, which regulates child daycare centers, to inspect the facility and provide feedback.
State health officials did not identify the children or say which one has tested positive for pneumococcal meningitis.
The YWCA closed the Donaldson center on Tuesday, and state and county regulators said the daycare will not reopen until state health administrators have declared it safe. Kerry-Ann Royes, director of YWCA Miami, said she decided to close the center as a precaution and that state officials had not advised the non-profit to shut down after the suspected death from meningitis.
“At the time, the health department did not advise us we had to close,” she said.
In a letter dated Dec. 7 and addressed to parents of children at the Donaldson center, state officials said “a child” who attends the Donaldson center had been diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis, which is caused by “a very common bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes ear infections, pneumonia, and rarely meningitis.”
The letter explained the symptoms of meningitis, which include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, drowsiness or confusion, nausea, and vomiting. And it said the bacteria that causes it spreads from person to person by sneezing, coughing, direct contact with the saliva or nasal mucus of infected people.
The letter advised parents of children with sickle cell anemia, HIV, no spleen, kidney disease or compromised immune systems contact their family doctor.
The Donaldson center, at 112 NW 3rd Street, has a licensed capacity of 122 children, records show. It is listed as a provider under Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, which offers subsidized tuition for all 4-year-olds as a way to improve school readiness for the state’s youngsters. The state’s last inspection of the facility was on Dec. 1; a report on the visit said there were 45 youngsters present that day.
The seven-page inspection report identified a slew of problems at daycare, including evidence of rodent or vermin infestation, a broken bathroom sink, an improper diaper changing surface, and a faulty rubber surface “that can cause children to fall.” The report also said two child care workers had failed to complete annual training.
Inspections on April 7 and Dec. 14, 2016, Aug. 10, 2016, and June 20, 2016 turned up no deficiencies. An April 26, 2016 inspection found a few minor deficiencies, including incomplete immunization records for one or more children.
“We’re just devastated by this,” Royes continued. “These are our babies.”
The YWCA rents space from Miami-Dade at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center at 111 NW First St.
In a statement, Miami-Dade’s Internal Services Department, which oversees building operations, said it worked with the YWCA “to ensure that every step has been taken … to notify parents and follow all recommendations.”
In a statement, DCF wrote: “We are devastated by the death of two small children who attended this child care facility and we continue to grieve with their families and loved ones.” The agency said the center will remain closed until the state clears it for reopening after an investigation.