After a former staff member reported allegations of abuse at an Enid center for people with developmental disabilities, her photo and phone number appeared on flyers suggesting she was available for sexual encounters, she wrote in court documents.
The flyers were posted around Enid, including on trees near another local facility for people with developmental disabilities one morning in early June, according to a police report.
A few weeks later, the woman filed four protective orders in Garfield County District Court against coworkers at the Robert M. Greer Center in Enid. The 52-bed, state-owned facility has been at the center of an unfolding scandal involving allegations of widespread abuse of its vulnerable residents. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services continued to refer clients to the troubled center for months after reports of systemic abuse first surfaced.
The woman wrote in applications for protective orders that her coworkers had admitted to hanging the flyers around Enid to retaliate against her for reporting abuse. A judge granted all four emergency orders of protection, and all but one of the orders are still active. The woman no longer works at the Greer Center.
The Frontier is not naming the former Greer Center employee who reported abuse because of safety concerns. Because none of the people she filed protective orders against have been criminally charged, The Frontier is not naming them either.
Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation, the private, for-profit company that contracts with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to manage the Greer Center, did not answer questions about whether employees accused of hanging the flyers faced any disciplinary action or if they still work at the center.
Over the past month, police have arrested six people, including a shift supervisor, on charges of conspiracy and caretaker abuse for allegedly abusing multiple residents over the last year at the Greer Center. Police began investigating the center after the former Greer employee reported systemic abuse at the facility in June, court documents say.
“We are deeply disturbed by the reports of abuse and consider such behavior to be wholly inappropriate and unacceptable,” said Sue Nayda, chief operating officer of Liberty. The company said it couldn’t comment on specifics because of pending investigations.
The abuse included “choking clients until they were unconscious and then beating them until they regained consciousness, forms of waterboarding in the facility’s showers and enticing other clients to participate in the abuse of specific clients,” according to police. Court documents say that at least one employee tried to tell a Greer Center administrator about abuse but “he had refused to listen.”
The Department of Human Services still didn’t halt new admissions to the facility until Nov. 16, two days after the first arrests were made and five months after systemic abuse was first reported to police.
The agency said it wasn’t able to begin connecting all the incidents of abuse until someone made a report to Enid police on Oct. 30, which led the agency to halt admissions and raise safety protocols for remaining residents. The Enid Police Department couldn’t confirm to The Frontier that it received an abuse report on Oct. 30.
“I think we have an opinion that if they’re getting serious allegations like this — multiple ones — that perhaps they shouldn’t continue to admit people until they figure it out,” said Joy Turner, director of investigations and monitoring for the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.
Repetitive reports, even if they aren’t substantiated, should be a red flag, she said. Photos of the survivors turned in to police show serious bruising, which Turner said should have been seen by staff when helping individuals with bathing or dressing.
“Some kind of light bulb has got to go off,” Turner said. The Law Center has opened its own investigation into the Greer Center and how state agencies handled reports of abuse.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services investigators didn’t see an imminent safety threat to residents when the incidents were initially reported, said agency spokeswoman Casey White. When the agency first investigated, the incidents “did not appear to be connected,” White said.
The Department of Human Services says it notified Enid police at the beginning of every investigation into allegations of abuse at Greer, but didn’t provide a date to The Frontier of when those investigations began. The agency isn’t legally obligated to update law enforcement about investigations into abuse of vulnerable adults beyond the initial notification unless investigators see immediate, serious safety concerns, according to state rules.
The Enid Police Department didn’t launch its own investigation until it received a report about the alleged abuse in June. Enid Detective Frank Bruno said it was then that he learned the Department of Human Services had already been investigating the Greer Center.
Bruno wrote in an affidavit that “several of the alleged incidents of caretaker abuse at the Greer Center had also been investigated by DHS’s Office of Client Advocacy,” but “several of the investigations could not be substantiated due to the staff at the Greer Center not cooperating” and victims being nonverbal.
The Department of Human Services denied in a statement to The Frontier that it had any difficulty conducting interviews with victims and staff or getting documents related to the cases.
Reports of abuse or neglect at residential facilities nationwide are not unheard-of.
It can be difficult to investigate and prosecute allegations of abuse because some vulnerable adults may be nonverbal, Bruno said. Enid police have focused their investigation on instances of abuse with witnesses and victims that could be interviewed directly.
A 2018 audit of group homes for people with developmental disabilities by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General in a handful of states found that residents “often experienced serious injuries and medical conditions that resulted in emergency room visits.”
Between 2017 to 2019, people with cognitive disabilities were almost seven times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than those that didn’t have a disability, according to the federal U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Following a major lawsuit alleging abuse and neglect in the 1980s, Oklahoma shut down Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs — one of the state’s residential facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities. Over the next several decades, other residential facilities were closed in favor of community-based services. The Disability Law Center has investigated other reports of abuse at the Greer Center over the past few decades.
Greer Center staff are required to report abuse under the state’s mandatory reporting laws. State investigators will make face-to-face contact with victims, interview staff and review records. Department of Human Services’ investigative reports into allegations of abuse are kept private.
The Department of Human Services’ investigation of Greer is still ongoing. The results of the investigation will be given to the State Department of Health and the Garfield County district attorney, the agency said.
Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation is affiliated with Liberty Healthcare Corporation, a private, for-profit company based in Pennsylvania. Liberty also has contracts with the state to manage two facilities for youth with developmental disabilities and to end the state’s years-long waitlist for developmental disability services. Millions in taxpayer funds have gone to the company, according to a state fiscal transparency website. Last year, the company faced a data breach of personal information from over 5,000 families on the waiting list for services.
Liberty didn’t answer specific questions about what remedial steps the company would take or how staff or administrators could have been unaware of the abuse.
The Department of Human Services can end contracts with providers, but the agency said Greer is the only facility of its kind in the state that can meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities and mental or behavioral health challenges.
A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services said Greer center staff already received additional training on how to report abuse and neglect, and the agency has placed staff on-site 24/7 for safety monitoring. Liberty is sending daily reports to the agency, a Department of Human Services spokesperson said, and has brought in two out-of-state investigators to “overhaul their internal investigation process.”