Hospital settles in case over background check of nursing assistant

Darcy Spears

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Hospital settles in case over background check of nursing assistant

CREATED Sep. 19, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- It's been five years since Certified Nursing Assistant Steven Farmer was charged with sexually assaulting multiple hospital patients.

He's still awaiting his criminal trial, but a civil trial against Centennial Hills Hospital was scheduled to start Monday.

Now, Valley Health System is trying to keep their case out of court after learning Contact 13's Darcy Spears is investigating.

The long list of counts against freelance nursing assistant Steven Farmer includes open or gross lewdness, indecent exposure, sexual assault and lewdness with a child under 14 years old.

His alleged crimes involve six female patients who all say they were assaulted at Centennial Hills Hospital in 2008.

"The main concern, obviously, is patient safety," said Attorney Neal Hyman.  He represents one of Farmer's alleged victims.

We spoke to her in 2008 after she accused Farmer of assaulting her in a hospital elevator and then again in her room.

"I just kept thinking, you know, what do I do?  Do I fight him?  Do I scream?  What do I do?" she told Action News in June, 2008.

Her civil case against Centennial Hills Hospital, which is part of Valley Health System, seeks to prove how they failed her and other patients by allowing Farmer to work in their facility.

"She's relying on him and the hospital to make sure that her safety is ensured, and in this case they are essentially delivering a time bomb to our client, because from what we know of his background and history, he never even should have been working at this hospital," says Hyman.

Staff hired by the hospital went through stringent background checks. 

Farmer came to Centennial through an out-of-state temp agency.

According to a deposition of a Valley Health Safety and E.R. Administrator, the hospital had to hire temps because they weren't properly prepared or staffed when they opened in January, 2008.

Hyman says, "The hospital's taking a position that when it outsources its employees, it can sort of absolve itself from liability, hide from liability."

Had the hospital made a few phone calls and checked some prior places of employment, Hyman says they would have discovered some red flags about Farmer.

"We've learned that he did work at facilities outside the state, specifically Northern California, where at least in one instance was disciplined for improper activity at that facility."

The case has also revealed that Farmer was placed on "Do Not Return" status by another Nevada hospital about a month before starting work at Centennial.

"The DNR is the gold standard of red flags.  When somebody hears there's a DNR, that means you definitely need to investigate somebody further," says Hyman.

Another deposition of a Valley Health Human Resources administrator says she "would have wanted to have that information." And they would not have taken Farmer on without checking further into his background.

The temp agency didn't tell them, and they didn't check him out on their own.

"This is, I think, one of the problems in health care," Hyman says.  "When you have incidents like this that occur, especially tragic incidences of a personal nature, they're usually swept under the rug."

In this case, Hyman says Centennial failed to preserve security camera video that may have contained evidence of Farmer's actions.

"So what we learned is that the hospital destroyed the videotapes within seven days, even knowing that our client was assaulted in their facility."

The court has ruled the hospital's actions were improper and is weighing what the appropriate sanction would be.

There probably won't be a sanction now that the case has settled and the trial isn't going forward. The terms and the amount are being kept confidential. We asked Centennial for an on-camera interview, but they didn't respond. 

Contact 13 remains committed to covering the case.