Fla. Caseworker Stabbed to Death During Home Visit

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Farkus and her niece were home Monday when they heard someone screaming, “Help me, help me, help me.” Farkus said she initially thought her Chihuahua had bitten someone, but looked out her window and saw Smith chasing Ross.

Smith stabbed Ross several times, Farkus said. Ross was taken to the hospital by a woman in a car who saw her bleeding on the ground.

“We are grateful for the Good Samaritan who put herself in harm’s way in an effort to save Stephanie,” Ross’ family said in the statement. “We are comforted that Stephanie made a friend when she needed one the most and that she did not leave the Earth alone. This woman is a part of our family now and we pray for her comfort as she has no doubt suffered a tremendous event that will stay with her forever.”

Smith just sat outside his apartment after the stabbing, Farkus said, and a few minutes later, police arrived.

“We knew right away that he was involved,” Uppercue said.

Ross worked at a central Florida high school before being hired at Integra, which says it provides “a more integrated, collaborative and comprehensive approach to managing the health needs” of an insurance company’s “most costly and complex members.”

“This is an especially tragic loss,” Dee Brown, Integra’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Stephanie joined Integra to improve the lives of disadvantaged people struggling in the community with chronic illnesses, and believed strongly in our mission and goals in serving these individuals.”

Brown told the Lakeland Ledger that Ross visited Smith four times. Brown told the newspaper Integra staff members are trained that if they are ever concerned for their safety, they can have other staff accompany them on their visits. Brown wouldn’t comment on Ross’ specific case.

Advocates have long pressed for better security measures for social workers and home health caseworkers who are frequently sent into potentially dangerous situations. Some note that social workers go into homes armed only with clipboards and laptops.

In 2004, Teri Zenner was fatally attacked with a knife and chain saw while visiting a client in Overland Park, Kan., to make sure he was taking his medication. The attacker was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 2010, the state’s governor signed a law requiring social workers to take six hours of safety awareness the first time they apply to have their license renewed.

In an email, Brown said the company was helping law enforcement.

“We take the safety and well-being of our employees very seriously and are committed to assuring ongoing compliance with existing safety practices and incorporation of measures that might further reduce avoidable risk to our employees,” Brown said.

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