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.
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.
William and Virginia Hicks
William and Virginia Hicks have been married more than 58 years. She was diagnosed in 2006 with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
William Hicks, a World War II veteran with combat injuries, could no longer take care of his wife on his own and chose Epworth Villa because of their Methodist faith.
Virginia Hicks’ caretakers were to take care of bathing, dressing, feeding, transferring and assisting her in the bathroom.
The Hicks still live at Epworth Villa. Williams Hicks does not want to move her because he worries she might die, their attorney, Olson, said.
“His one goal is to outlive his wife,” Olson said.
The focus of most of the case was on the 2010 injury and what happened afterward.
Certified nursing assistant Riquee King was not given any Alzheimer’s training at Epworth Villa.
“It is without question that Ms. King was the party responsible for Virginia’s injuries,” Parrish wrote.
A “competency checklist” required to demonstrate her ability to provide care was absent from her personnel file, and King did not know what it was, the judge wrote.
Shortly after she was hired, King was left alone with Virginia the morning of May 9, 2010, not knowing she was an Alzheimer’s patient nor her name. When the sitter returned, Virginia had a bleeding cut on her arm, the judge wrote.
Surveillance footage confirmed that only King was in the room with her, the judge concluded.
Bohlier later saw bruising that “indicated that someone may have grabbed her wrists which were bruised and she yelled in pain when moving her arm.”
Purple and black hand prints were found on both of her wrists, and her left wrist was later determined to have been broken. Her orthopedic surgeon testified that an ulna fracture like hers was generally the result of a blow and not a fall.
King was allowed back to work on the same floor — without any additional training or supervision — five days after the incident.
According to Bohlier, “Simply allowing CNA King to return to the facility and potentially provide care to Virginia would be abusive and distressful for William and such an act, in and of itself would be ‘malicious,’” the judge wrote.
It was revealed that King had lied to Epworth Villa about her reasons for leaving prior jobs, the judge wrote. The facility also did not check her prior employment.
“The sensational findings by an Oklahoma County judge who took matters into her own hands and denied us our constitutional right to a jury of our peers are the latest example of our court system going off the rails,” Epworth Villa told The Oklahoman in a statement July 11.
“The plaintiff, an elderly lady who, along with her husband, continues to live with us, had minor injuries, which we did not cause. After we followed our policy of reporting to state authorities and the police, they did not take any action against us,” Epworth Villa stated.
“The judge ignored that evidence, along with the fact that we have new leadership and have continued to receive top ratings and awards in our field.
“We look forward to presenting the full story to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on appeal with the prayerful hope that they will look at all of the facts and reverse the judge’s punitive action that so greatly harms the future of senior health care in Oklahoma,” the retirement home stated.
An attorney for the couple told The Oklahoman retirement home officials should have simply said they were sorry.
“I'll bet you 10,000-to-1 odds if they’d done that, there would never have been a lawsuit,” attorney Joe White said.
“What brought them to the courthouse ... is their insane attempt to cover up what is unquestionable physical abuse. At the end of the day, they just decided to try and cover up on the wrong person,” White said.
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.”
Epworth Villa president and CEO