Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Woman Who Fell Ill At Jail Dies In Hospital, Boyfriend Says

By STEPHEN THOMPSON of The Tampa Tribune

Published: February 28, 2008

LARGO -- Dorothy Palinchik, the 42-year-old waitress whose family alleges she did not receive adequate health care at Pinellas County Jail, died today at Largo Medical Center, according to her live-in boyfriend.

Her diagnosis was a combination of pneumonia and a type of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics, family members said. Her time of death was 4:14 p.m., according to the hospital and family members.

The day before Valentine's Day, Palinchik was booked into Pinellas County Jail on charges she had stolen a $9.20 Philly steak sandwich from a Publix supermarket, said Palinchik's mother, whose name is also Dorothy.

Nine days later, she left the jail in an ambulance.

Palinchik's family and boyfriend think she got sick at the jail and that the staff there is responsible for her condition.

"They didn't give her proper medical care," said her mother. "I just don't think they wanted to deal with it."

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail, has a detention investigative unit that has started looking into the matter, said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. Such probes are launched whenever someone leaves the jail in a deteriorating health condition, Pasha said.

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats said it was too early to tell whether his staff did anything inappropriate, but he defended the quality of health care at the jail and the conditions there in general. The budget for inmate health care is $21 million, with roughly $2 million for pharmaceuticals, he said.

"A lot of these inmates, they've had little or no health care maintenance in their lives," Coats said. "We don't know what ailments they may or may not have and a lot of time we have to rely on what they tell us, or don't tell us."

Palinchik was accused of ordering the sandwich at the Publix in downtown St. Petersburg at dinnertime, and of walking out without paying for it, according to an arrest affidavit. She was charged with petty theft, with bail set at $250.

Palinchik's boyfriend, Michael Mullican, said he was out of town working as a truck driver in the Miami area when she was jailed. When he visited her at the jail's video visitation center Feb. 21, eight days after she was booked, she looked terrible, he said.

"The next time I saw her was Saturday afternoon on a ventilator at Largo Medical Center," Mullican said.

Pasha, the sheriff's spokeswoman, said Palinchik was transferred from a regular wing at the jail to a medical wing Feb. 21, the same day Mullican visited her, and the next evening she was transported by ambulance to Largo Medical Center.

Roger Sanderson, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health, described Palinchik's staph affliction, technically called staph MRSA, as one that can be passed on through a simple handshake. People may be carrying it for months or years in their noses and sinuses without knowing it, until it is triggered by simply rubbing one's nose then touching a small cut, he said.

MRSA can cause infections in the heart valves and in the bones, Sanderson said. An infection in the lungs causes pneumonia.

"MRSA pneumonias are well known and they can have a fairly high fatality rate," Sanderson said. "Cases like this do happen. People with signs of pneumonia need to get to their physician right away.

"This is not something unique to jails," Sanderson said. "It can happen anywhere."

Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336 or

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