The Department of Human Services has fired two employees involved in the case of a 15-year-old special needs boy who died from complications of pneumonia. This should hearten those who wonder if change is really possible at the sprawling state agency.
Quinten Wood died in 2013. His sister, Valerie Wood-Harber, says the boy had a chromosomal disorder that left him unable to care for himself. He lived with his father and younger brother in the Oklahoma City area. Wood-Harber became concerned in 2012 when the brother said his father had repeatedly left him alone to care for Quinten in the past two years.
Concerned that Quentin was being neglected, Wood-Harber called DHS 22 times from December 2012 to early January 2013 seeking help. She said DHS did little despite her repeated efforts. In January, she delivered to Gov. Mary Fallin an online petition with 460,000 signatures seeking a full investigation.
A month later, DHS Director Ed Lake said the agency would fire two employees involved with the case because they “clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices.” Lake also said Wood-Harper deserves “full credit and our appreciation” for her diligence. The truth about what happened “might never have been fully investigated” otherwise, he said.
In his announcement Monday, Lake defended his employees, saying staff won’t ever be punished when they act in good faith. He noted that DHS workers make life-and-death decisions each day “under tremendous pressure never to err.” Given the nature of the work, tragedies will occur, Lake said.
The tragedy here was that more wasn’t done sooner. There is no changing that now. But Lake’s approach is refreshing. At an agency where slow-footing investigations once seemed to be the norm, Lake took Wood-Harber’s complaint seriously. He weighed the facts, made a swift and certain decision and acknowledged that more should have been done.