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September 23, 2014

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Patient sues over alleged sex assault in hospital elevator

A woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a worker at Centennial Hills Hospital has filed suit against the hospital, its parent company and other health care entities alleging negligence, false imprisonment, emotional distress and assault and battery.

The worker, Steven Farmer, is awaiting a February 2009 trial on 10 charges, including three charges of sexual assault. Farmer was a nursing assistant hired by American Nursing Services, a supplemental nursing staffing agency contracted by the hospital.

The woman is suing the hospital, Valley Health System, Universal Health Services (Valley Health System's parent company), American Nursing Services Inc. and Farmer.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 2.

Farmer was arrested May 16, the day after the woman said that while she was sedated, she was sexually assaulted by Farmer in an elevator while being transported in a hospital bed from the emergency room to her hospital room.

She said the assault continued after they arrived in her hospital room. The woman, along with three other women who came forward after Farmer was arrested, testified during Farmer's July 1 preliminary hearing. Neal Hyman, who is representing the woman, said he didn't know if any other alleged victims would also sue the hospital, the staffing firm and Farmer.

Hyman said Sept. 17 that the only response he has received is from officials at Universal Health Services, telling him that he is going after the wrong companies because Farmer was not employed by the hospital.

David Ferrainolo, an attorney who represents Centennial Hills Hospital, said Wednesday the hospital denies all of the allegations in the complaint and emphasized that Farmer was not an employee of the hospital.

But Hyman disagrees. Although Farmer was not technically employed by the hospital, he still worked there, making the hospital responsible, he said.

"Essentially, he was an employee working at the hospital," he said.

Both the nursing agency and the hospital shared the responsibility to make sure Farmer was qualified and a good person, Hyman said.

"Farmer was inside the hospital, and they had the duty to supervise him," he said. "The parent company is responsible because of the policies and procedures that should have been implemented for the lower company by the parent company. Whether they had procedures is an issue, and if they did, then whether they implemented them is an issue."

The lawsuit includes a negligence complaint for the hospital's alleged lack of security cameras.

"It could be true that because of privacy issues, there may be some areas in the hospital that cannot have cameras, like hospital rooms, but they are allowed in E.R. rooms and communal areas and corridors," he said. "In this specific hospital (Centennial Hills) there were no security cameras anywhere inside the building, only somewhere on the outside."

However, Ferrainolo said that the hospital has sufficient security cameras in appropriate and legal locations to surveil the premises to ensure the safety of patients, employees and guests.

"The safety of our patients is our top concern and priority," he said. The suit also accuses the defendants of not providing sufficient security personnel, failure to supervise hospital staff, failure to screen or hire qualified employees and independent contractors and failure to train hospital staff.

The woman's claim of false imprisonment is because she says she was confined while being transported in the elevator.

"My client is not just going after money," Hyman said. "She feels victimized and shocked that something like that could happen in a hospital, she's hoping she can do something to prevent it from happening again in the future."

Hyman has not yet requested specific damages, but said they will probably be in the seven-figure range.

Farmer has pleaded innocent to the criminal counts against him and has not yet responded to the allegations in the civil lawsuit.

Jenny Davis can be reached at 990-8921 or [email protected].

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