Get the latest from TODAY
After a boy reportedly punched Merritt Smith's 4-year-old daughter's face, the Ohio mom had fighting words for a hospital worker who allegedly told the girl, "I bet he likes you."
Smith led with those five words and vented her frustrations about treatment at the Columbus-based National Children's Hospital in a public Oct. 6 Facebook post that later went viral.
"Dear man at the registration desk at Children's hospital, I'm positive that you didn't think that statement through," she wrote. "As soon as I heard it I knew that is where it begins. That statement is where the idea that hurting is flirting begins to set a tone for what is acceptable behavior. My four year old knows 'That's not how we show we like someone. That was not a good choice.'"
The mother asserted she would "not allow" that message to go unchallenged.
"At that desk you are in a position of influence, whether you realize it or not," Smith wrote. "You thought you were making the moment lighter. It is time to take responsibility for the messages we as a society give our children. Do not tell my 4 year old who needs stitches from a boy at school hitting her 'I bet he likes you.' NO."
The post, which had been shared on Facebook about 35,000 times as of Tuesday morning, prompted dozens of supportive comments from people who share Smith's perspective, as well as an Oct. 7 update from Smith herself. "The hospital responded to my email," she commented. "They thanked me for my feedback, acknowledged they had never thought of that situation in that light and consider it food for thought."
TODAY.com contacted the mother, who didn't respond to a request for additional comment.
The incident later yielded an official response from the Columbus-based hospital's Facebook page.
"We are aware of a recent comment made by a member of our staff to a family seeking care," reads part of National Children's Hospital's Oct. 9 statement. "Although we know the comment was made with no malicious intent, it is our wish to apologize and express to you that this is something we are taking seriously. This comment does not represent our philosophy as an institution."
That statement confirmed that the hospital had contacted the Smith family, adding that staff discussed the matter with the employee and his superiors.
On Monday, National Children's Hospital spokeswoman Gina Bericchia confirmed with TODAY that the employee in question was still working at the hospital. When asked for additional comment, Bericchia deferred to the hospital's Oct. 9 statement and the comments beneath it. Reactions on that thread included anger over the circumstance, sympathy for the employee, and general support for the hospital.
"I think that [the comments] widely represent how people feel about it," Bericchia told TODAY.com.
Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.