Arkansas DHS promises change after no one answers abandoned baby call

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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. -- Arkansas State Sen. Keith Ingram had a stern message for employees of his state's Dept. of Human Services.

“Either you do your job or find something else to do," he said.

He’s responding after DHS workers didn't; West Memphis Police said they found a baby left in a Krystal parking lot Wednesday, but when they called DHS, no one answered.

"There is no excuse for an employee of DHS to not respond immediately. This isn’t a single instance here. This is a pattern for a while,” Ingram said.

West Memphis Police said during the two hours while they couldn't get in touch with DHS, the agency probably took 20 calls for service. Capt. Joe Baker said they had three officers and a supervisor on the case; about one-third of their force on duty that day.

”There have been times we’ve had to have dispatchers or officers sit with a child for hours, care for them , feed them. We’ve had officers out of their own pockets go buy diapers,” Baker said. "If we have officers tied up doing the function of another agency it’s less we have out able to respond to public safety concerns."

DHS officials said police had four points of contact: two were in a meeting, one was on leave and one was in an area with no cell service.

The excuses weren't good enough for Ingram or the people who run the state agency.

“The process we worked out didn’t work. We need to do better. We understand that," DHS representative Amy Webb said.

Webb wouldn’t say how the people responsible would be held accountable.

But, she said they were considering changing the process so police only have to call one emergency number.

Ingram said he'd be watching to make sure they keep that promise.

”I’ve been assured by the DHS director Cindy Gillespie that this will be taken care of and will be done,” he said.

DHS officials also pointed to a $27 million investment announced earlier this week to hire more case workers and revamp the agency.

The agency also released this statement to WREG:

"First, let me say that there was no willful disregard of calls from the West Memphis Police Department. It was an unfortunately confluence of events that resulted in police not getting a returned call for two and half hours. We certainly never want law enforcement to wait that long and we want to do everything we can to ensure it doesn't happen again."

The agency went on to say they met with the department several months ago to come up with a communication plan that outlined who to call when DCFS is needed. The two groups compiled a list of four employees who should be contacted. The first person on that list was on leave, DHS said. The second and third were unfortunately in a meeting and the fourth did not have cell service.

The next call was to the Area Director who did answer.

"It is clear in this particular situation the communication process we jointly developed did not work well so we are looking at alternatives," DHS said in a statement. "We will continue to work hard to show that we are trying to be good partners with law enforcement."

Police told WREG they released the child to its grandmother.

At an arraignment Friday, the grandmother told a judge Poindexter was grieving the death of his brother when the incident happened and was very remorseful.