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Hundreds of Eckerd Connects employees in Pinellas and Pasco will lose their jobs by the end of 2021

View of Eckerd Connects' Largo offices from the outside
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The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating allegations that Eckerd Connects housed kids in "deplorable" conditions in the agency's Largo offices.

It's still unclear who will replace Eckerd to provide child welfare services in the region and whether that company will offer jobs to affected employees.

Hundreds of child welfare workers in Pinellas and Pasco Counties will lose their jobs at the end of the year when Eckerd Connects closes some of its facilities.

This comes after the Florida Department of Children and Families chose not to renew its contract with the Clearwater nonprofit, and after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced a criminal investigation into how Eckerd treated kids in its care.

Eckerd Connects notified more than 230 employees of facilities in Largo, Dade City and Trinity that they will lose their jobs on Dec. 31 when the contract ends, according to WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notices the agency submitted to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's office said Eckerd housed abused and neglected children in “deplorable” conditions in its Largo offices with limited adult supervision, resulting in several kids getting hurt.

“The children sleep on cots," Gualtieri said in apress conference announcing the investigation last week. "For some cases, they sleep under the desks. They sleep in dirty clothes. They don't have toiletries or towels, and they don't have access to hot meals while they're sleeping in those administrative offices. ... The conditions are as bad or worse than the living conditions from which the children were removed.”

While Eckerd Connects has publicly pledged to cooperate with the probe, the Tampa Bay Times reports Chief of Community Based Care Rebecca Kapusta told staff in a recent email that the nonprofit has done nothing wrong and plans to challenge the allegations.

The agency has admitted it also housed kids in offices in Hillsborough County, where it’s walking away from a separate contract that expires next June. Eckerd has previously blamed inadequate funding for why it no longer can provide foster care and child welfare services in the region.

It's still unclear who will replace Eckerd in Pinellas and Pasco, which combine as one district under the Department of Children and Families. This child welfare district, along with the one in Hillsborough, have become the largest in the state.

Eckerd Connects said it is committed to ensuring a smooth transition in all three counties.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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