Oklahoma City retirement home files for bankruptcy relief after $15.1 million judgment

Epworth Villa president promises “no change in service” because of reorganization petition
by Matt Dinger Modified: July 19, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 19, 2014
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Epworth Villa, 14901 N Pennsylvania Ave., seen on Friday in Oklahoma City. 
Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Epworth Villa, 14901 N Pennsylvania Ave., seen on Friday in Oklahoma City. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

A northwest Oklahoma City retirement home Friday filed a reorganization petition in U.S. bankruptcy court because of a $15.1 million judgment against it.

“Our residents and their families will see no change in service because of today’s filing,” Epworth Villa President and CEO John Harned said in a news release about the Chapter 11 petition.

An Oklahoma County judge decided in June that Epworth Villa must pay more than $15 million to a man and his wife, an Alzheimer’s patient whose wrist was broken at the facility in 2010.

Epworth Villa is appealing, calling the judgment a symptom of a “court system going off the rails.” It also said the judge ignored evidence in its favor.

In its news release Friday, Epworth Villa said the resident’s injury was minor, she has fully recovered and she and her husband “continue to live with us.”

It also said in the news release construction of new residences will be completed. Epworth Villa told a bankruptcy judge Friday it is undergoing a $65 million renovation and expansion project that is projected to be completed in next spring.

The Oklahoma County judge ordered the payment to the couple after concluding a poorly trained nursing assistant at Epworth Villa was responsible for the woman’s wrist injury. The judge also concluded retirement home officials failed to properly investigate the abuse and attempted to shift the blame away from their employee.

“These actions of defendant are atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” District Judge Patricia Parrish wrote.

The case

William Hicks, 90, filed the lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of himself and his wife, Virginia Hicks, 84. Both have been residents of Epworth Villa, 14901 N Pennsylvania Ave., since 2007.

The judge ordered Central Oklahoma United Methodist Retirement Facility Inc., the company which runs Epworth Villa, to pay the Hicks damages totaling $15,186,725. The total includes $10 million in punitive damages and $3.5 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before trial, the judge ruled in favor of the Hickses on their claims of negligence and breach of contract as a sanction against the defendant for repeatedly failing to produce documents. The judge ordered a payment of $1,505,212 for negligence and $181,513 for breach of contract.

As a sanction for further violations, the judge decided the case on her own, rather than having a jury. Parrish is an experienced judge, presiding over cases in Oklahoma County for more than a decade.

How much of the judgment — if any — will have to be paid could now be up to a bankruptcy judge. An emergency hearing in the bankruptcy case was set for Tuesday.

“We will certainly, on behalf of the Hicks, test the validity of the bankruptcy filing,” said Kirk Olson, one of the couple’s attorneys. “However, this is a company that deserves no protection. They're seeking protection from the judge’s decision. This is a company that allowed an employee to abuse Mrs. Hicks and has refused to accept responsibility from the beginning.”

Richard Bohlier, the home’s assistant director of nursing at the time of the injury to Virginia Hicks, called it “the worst case of physical abuse he had ever seen in his 20 years of working with patients,” Parrish noted in a 32-page document filed June 19.

The judge also noted that Epworth Villa’s training budget over a seven-year period was less than half of its lawn care budget for a single year.

The judge harshly criticized Epworth Villa for “holding itself out as having a servant’s heart and providing the best care in the state.” The judge concluded it actually failed to train its employees to provide even adequate care.

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by Matt Dinger
Court Reporter
Matt Dinger was born and raised in Oklahoma City. He has worked in OPUBCO's News and Information Center since 2006, and has been assigned to the breaking news desk since its formation in fall 2008. He specializes in crime and police reporting.
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Epworth

statistics

Epworth Villa said its Oklahoma City campus has 228 independent living apartments, 36 independent living cottages, 78 assisted living apartments, 40 memory care apartments and an 87-bed nursing care center.

Our residents and their families will see no change in service because of today’s filing.”

John Harned,
Epworth Villa president and CEO

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