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DHS workers disciplined for wide range of reasons

House speaker calls misconduct inexcusable.
BY NOLAN CLAY, RANDY ELLIS AND ROBBY TRAMMELL Staff Writers Published: December 25, 2011
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Workers at the state's two centers for the mentally disabled have been disciplined for cruelly teasing residents, falling asleep on the job, showing up drunk to work and spending time on a state computer looking up porn.

Two DHS nurses failed to try to revive a mentally disabled resident at the Pauls Valley center after he stopped breathing. “Why? He's gone,” one nurse said when another worker suggested CPR. The resident was later declared dead at a hospital.

Two DHS workers were caught creating fake identities so they could get food stamps for themselves.

One employee was having an affair with a co-worker and misusing the state computer to send her sexually explicit messages. He was caught when he emailed a sex message to a supervisor by mistake.

Another worker — a DHS law enforcement agent — propositioned a child-welfare worker he was protecting. The child-welfare worker was a witness against a militia member charged with child abuse. The records show the agent admitted sending text messages that suggested they cuddle and have sex. He claimed he was using dark humor to reduce her stress from the death threats made against her.

DHS made two highly publicized firings this year — a Pottawatomie County child-welfare worker and supervisor involved in placing a young girl, Serenity Deal, with her father.

A Lincoln County child-welfare worker involved in the case committed suicide and a Lincoln County supervisor resigned.

Serenity, 5, died less than a month after she began living with her father full time in Oklahoma City. She was placed with her father from foster care, even though she was injured twice in January during overnight visits with him.

The second time, she came back to a foster home with black eyes and a swollen and bruised face, records show. Both she and her father said he had dropped her accidentally. DHS workers accepted that explanation.

The father, Sean Brooks, pleaded guilty Dec. 2 to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Pottawatomie County worker and supervisor were faulted primarily in their termination notices for failing to fully investigate the father's background. He had been violent before.

“Disciplinary actions are taking place,” DHS Director Howard Hendrick said.

“We do hold people accountable. We suspend people. We terminate people in the appropriate cases. But we also do corrective action plans or we do employee disciplines of various kinds,” he testified in a deposition for a class-action lawsuit filed against him and DHS commissioners.

“We're supporting workers, too, at the same time,” he said. “I mean, you can create a climate where, you know, it's always a gotcha environment, too. So I think we try to find the balance between accountability and expectations for improvement.”

The records show several of the firings came after workers simply stopped showing up. Some workers were let go because they could not physically perform their tasks anymore.

The records show, though, that DHS can take months to complete the process. Workers have been paid some state money in the meantime.

One DHS employee, for instance, came in for the last time on Sept. 19, 2008, used up her leave three months later and moved to Texas in June 2009. DHS paid her more than $1,000 in 2009, finally firing her in May 2010.


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