Report: Board suspends CEO of Rockledge facility where woman was impregnated

David Cooke suspended as CEO of Bridges following arrest of former caregiver

By Eric Rogers, Florida Today

David Cooke suspended as CEO of Bridges. (Image: Florida Today)

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. - Bridges has announced the immediate suspension of president and CEO David Cooke, following allegations that a former employee fathered a child with a woman with developmental disabilities under his care at one of the organization's group homes, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

[PREVIOUS: Family to sue Rockledge facility after caregiver allegedly impregnates patient]

The Rockledge-based nonprofit announced Friday its board of directors had unanimously voted to suspend Cooke, who has led the organization for more than 10 years, said spokesmen Ron Sachs and Jon Peck, of the Sachs Media Group in Tallahassee, in a news release.

Cooke did not immediately respond to Florida Today's request for comment.

Vice President Lynn Hudson will serve as interim director. Day-to-day operations will not be affected, Peck said.

“We were shocked to learn that something so terrible could occur involving one of our residents – and we have grave concerns about lapses in leadership that significantly contributed to this regrettable tragedy," said chairwoman Susan Stokes Elmore in a prepared statement.

“The Board is especially disheartened that critical information was intentionally withheld from us until only recently, even though it was determined four years ago that the resident had become pregnant," Elmore said. 

"Similarly, the decision by our organization’s top leader to keep the employee on staff despite his possible role in the pregnancy, and the administration’s subsequent failure to keep board members fully informed – almost until the employee’s arrest – is entirely unacceptable." 

Elmore said the organization will continue to cooperate with law enforcement and will conduct its own internal review.

[MORE: Here's why it took years to charge caregiver accused of impregnating womanRockledge caretaker fathered child with woman with disabilities, police say]

In addition, Bridges will establish a panel of outside experts to "conduct a comprehensive review of Bridges policies, procedures and a protocols," Elmore said.

Willie Shorter, 58, of Rockledge, was arrested Feb. 6 after police said DNA evidence confirmed he had fathered a child with Dawn Blanchard, now 43, a woman with developmental disabilities under his care at a Bridges group home in Rockledge.

Cooke said Shorter had been allowed to continue working with Blanchard and 12 others in the home for three years after police began investigating Blanchard's pregnancy in January 2015. Blanchard complained in April 2018 that Shorter had been inappropriately touching her.

Blanchard's parents filed suit against Bridges and Shorter Thursday afternoon.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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