Two DHS workers have been fired after officials concluded a mentally disabled woman under their care was forced to eat jalapeno peppers mixed into her food.
Patty England, 31, of Pauls Valley, and Sheila Scott, 54, of Tatums, were direct care specialists II at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley. They are appealing their May 2 terminations.
“It's a case of it didn't happen,” their attorney, Gerard Dumas, said of the accusation.
A key witness against them said both would make the woman eat all the food on her plate and would not allow the woman to have anything to drink with her meal. The alleged victim is identified only by her initials in the discharge letters.
“You were responsible for the care of vulnerable adults, and you intentionally subjected F.M. to abuse through manipulation of F.M.'s food and water, as well as through the use of demeaning and abusive behavior and language,” center director Jeff Livingston wrote both workers.
“You deprived F.M. of appropriate nutrition and care which had the potential to cause physical and mental injury, and caused F.M. to experience an increase in incidents which involve food.”
Investigators for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services sent reports on their findings to a Garvin County prosecutor. No criminal charges have been filed.
The internal DHS investigation focused on complaints made last year that jalapeno peppers were put into the mentally disabled woman's food and salt into her water to control her behavior. Both workers were reassigned in October after coming under investigation.
DHS commissioners are considering closing the Pauls Valley center rather than spending millions of dollars to make required improvements to outdated buildings.
Under a proposal, about 46 of the 124 residents would be moved to the DHS center for the mentally disabled in Enid. The rest would be transitioned into community-based homes.
A vote on the proposal could come in July.
Guardians and parents of residents of the Pauls Valley center have spoken out repeatedly against closing the facility.
Disciplinary records show DHS officials have had more trouble with workers at Pauls Valley than with workers at the center in Enid. More than a dozen direct care specialists have been discharged from the Pauls Valley center so far this year. Most were probationary employees.
In the jalapeno case, England and Scott were longtime employees at the center. Their attorney, Dumas, said DHS had no solid evidence against them, only hearsay. He also said witnesses made conflicting statements. He is asking in their appeals to the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission that they be reinstated.
“They do not have a single eyewitness that either Sheila or Patty put these jalapenos in anybody's food,” the attorney said. “My ... take on the whole case is it's a personnel conflict between shifts.
“Everyone that worked on the shift with Patty and Sheila said, ‘This didn't happen. This didn't take place.' All the people making accusations were on a different shift,” the attorney said.
“And, some of the people ... making these accusations and claims have now moved from their shift into the more desirable shift. ... The positions were made available by Patty and Sheila being gone.''
Jalapeno peppers are well-known as spicy. They regularly are used in Mexican dishes and on nachos. They can be difficult to eat, particularly without sufficient water.
The key witness, DHS worker Kathy Williams, reported to investigators that she saw jalapeno peppers in and on F.M.'s food on more than one occasion when England was cooking. She also reported smelling jalapenos in the woman's food at times.
Williams also reported she believed Scott was aware that peppers were being placed in the woman's food and that Scott made the woman eat them.
A DHS psychological clinician, James Stark, reported the woman went from having six behavioral incidents last August to 30 last September, most related to food or drink. The incidents dropped after Scott and England left the unit.
Four workers reported hearing Scott call the woman a derogatory name, records show. Scott denied that.
One worker also reported he heard Scott tell F.M. that she “hated F.M.'s guts and wanted to slit F.M.'s throat,” the records show.
Another worker testified at a pretermination hearing that Scott often made F.M. sit on her bean bag chair and demanded that F.M. not look at TV or out the window. The worker testified Scott occasionally made F.M. “sit with her head down between her knees.”