Claim filed against county over boy’s E. coli death

It alleges negligent failures by health agency related to outbreak at day care

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The parents of 4-year-old Ronan Wilson, the Hazel Dell boy who died last year from complications of E. coli, have filed a claim against Clark County Public Health.

The county received the claim filed by the boy’s parents, Anthony and Bonnie Wilson, on June 8. The Wilsons claim negligent failures by the county health department were causes of Ronan’s death. The financial damages are listed in the claim as “undetermined, pending further investigation and discovery.”

Ronan died April 8, 2010, after contracting E. coli at the in-home day care, Fletch Family Daycare, he attended in Hazel Dell. He was hospitalized for one week before he died.

County officials have asked the family for 60 days to review the case before responding to the claim, which is the first step in pursuing a case against a public agency, said Mark Wilsdon, Clark County risk manager. After an internal analysis, the county will either accept or deny liability, he said.

The family can then ask to compromise with the county, drop the claim or file a lawsuit, Wilsdon said.

Anthony and Bonnie Wilson claim the county health department was negligent and didn’t “reasonably alert the medical community, the general public or the public schools of the E. coli outbreak in a timely manner.”

The claim also says the county failed to prevent or control the outbreak from spreading, supervise the health and sanitation conditions of the Fletch Family Daycare, institute appropriate control measures after learning of the outbreak and close the day care center.

“Despite the knowledge of three children from the Fletch Family Daycare having contracted E. coli and the knowledge that Fletch Family Daycare was not following proper diaper disposal procedures and was not taking proper precautions against the spread of a communicable disease, the Clark County Public Health Department did not notify or otherwise alert the medical community, the general public or the public schools of this outbreak,” according to the claim.

When the Wilsons took Ronan to see a doctor on March 29, 2010, the doctor had not been notified by the county of the E. coli cases, the Wilsons said in the claim.

“When the doctor was told by the parents of Ronan A. Wilson of a suspected E. coli outbreak at the Fletch Family Daycare, he disregarded the claim. He diagnosed Ronan A. Wilson with the flu,” according to the claim.

A total of 23 children and four staff members were found to have either probable or confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7. Four children, including Ronan, were hospitalized.

The county learned of the first case March 19, 2010. An initial investigation showed there were no other sick children at the day care center, county health officer Dr. Alan Melnick said last year.

A physician who treated the first child alerted the county on March 26, 2010, of a second case. The county then began interviewing parents and ordering stool samples from all day care staff and children, Melnick said.

The county ordered the day care to close April 2, 2010, after test results showed other people had E. coli, even though they weren’t experiencing symptoms.

Melnick said the county didn’t issue a provider alert because of the relatively small number of children involved. All parents and staff could be reached individually by using phone numbers provided by the center.

The county issues news releases alerting the community of a spread of communicable diseases when health officials have no other way of contacting potentially infected people, Melnick said.

Dr. Anthony Marfin, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, sent the Clark County Commissioners a letter last fall indicating the county acted within state guidelines.

The state Department of Early Learning revoked the day care’s license last fall. According to the state, center owners Larry and Dianne Fletch waited too long to contact the county health department after children started becoming ill.

The state suggested the bacteria may have been brought into the home by an infant who had diarrhea for 10 days and continued to attend day care.

When reached by phone Thursday morning, Anthony Wilson declined to comment on the claim.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.