Women at Sharpe complained about employee before he was charged with patient sex crimes
It’s the latest problem to surface at the troubled state-run psychiatric facility, which for years has faced scrutiny for its patient treatment and staffing issues
William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital (Department of Health and Human Resources | Courtesy photo)
Women employed by a state-run psychiatric hospital filed multiple complaints, beginning late last year, about their male coworker before it came to light he had a sexual relationship with a patient.
Keefe Kiser was terminated from William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital on April 7 after multiple coworkers made complaints about his behavior that same day, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which owns and operates the hospital in Weston.
Days later, it was revealed that Kiser had an “inappropriate relationship with a patient,” according to DHHR spokesperson Jessica Holstein. Sharpe serves patients with disabilities.
Local TV station WBOY added more to the story, revealing Kiser had a sexual relationship with an incarcerated female who received treatment at Sharpe. Kiser was later charged in September for a sexual crime against a patient.
“Following Kiser’s termination, [Sharpe CEO Pat Ryan] continued to follow-up with law enforcement throughout the investigation and up until Kiser’s arrest after learning of the allegations involving a former patient,” Holstein said in an email.
But, in December 2022, months before Kiser’s actions resulted in termination, a female staff member at Sharpe had already alerted hospital leadership to Kiser’s inappropriate behavior. “Sharpe immediately separated Kiser from the staff member,” Holstein said.
She said that Kiser received counseling in response to the incident, but Disability Rights West Virginia Legal Director Mike Folio said there’s no record of counseling in Kiser’s personnel file. The state shuffled Kiser to another part of the hospital in response to the complaint, he said.
“There is a lack of institutional control by Sharpe hospital leadership,” Folio said.
Disability Rights West Virginia has access to personnel records as the federally-mandated protection and advocacy system in West Virginia for people with disabilities, including those housed at Sharpe. Folio reviewed Kiser’s employment history in response to questions from West Virginia Watch. No personal information about Kiser was shared for this story.
The state’s alleged failure to address issues with Kiser prior to his arrest is the latest problem to surface at the state-run hospital. Lawmakers, tasked with holding DHHR accountable, have long heard about issues at the facility, including patient abuse, overcrowding, staffing problems and failure to reintegrate eligible patients back into their communities. A few lawmakers recently toured the 150-bed facility, which was never meant to house patients long term, in hopes of improving it.
Folio, who has brought concerns about Sharpe to lawmakers, can point to very few changes in the last couple of years that that have improved the hospital’s quality of care. DHHR is currently under a federal investigation for its treatment of people with disabilities.
“Nothing has been done and the abuse continues. Now, [a patient] has been sexually abused,” he said, adding that the embattled health agency again failed to be transparent about what’s going on at Sharpe.
DHHR declined West Virginia Watch’s interview request with Sharpe CEO Pat Ryan.
“DHHR will not tolerate patient abuse, patient neglect, or patient exploitation at any of its health care facilities,” Holstein said in an email Sept. 27 regarding Kiser’s employment. “Employees or contract staff who engage in such offensive conduct will be terminated, referred to the appropriate authorities for prosecution, and turned over to the appropriate licensing boards for disciplinary action.”
The agency shared the same statement in 2021 after a Sharpe staff member was charged with strangling a patient. MetroNews reported that “four more workers were fired over allegations that they participated in patient abuse or watched it happen.”
Folio added that Ryan and DHHR leaders failed to disclose to Statewide Forensic Clinical Director Colleen Lillard about Kiser’s inappropriate relationship with a forensic patient. Forensic patients are people with mental disorders or intellectual disabilities who are involved with the court system.
Holstein said that although Lillard serves the state in her role, she does not serve patients at Sharpe.
Folio pushed back on that, saying, “[Lillard] was unaware that a patient in her care was sexually abused in her care.”
Lillard is an employee of West Virginia University Health System, which helps to staff Sharpe Hospital.
In response to an interview request, Angela Jones, corporate director of media relations and public affairs for WVU Medicine, said, “As [this is] an active criminal investigation, we are not able to comment, but we are cooperating with any requests from law enforcement.”
Earlier this year, the state Legislature mandated a reorganization of DHHR as they were unhappy about a lack of transparency and spending coupled with poor health outcomes. Also, lawmakers were concerned about the health department’s treatment of people with disabilities and children in foster care.
The changes at DHHR are underway and included the creation of a new department to focus on the state’s health facilities like Sharpe.
In May, Michael Caruso was named secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health Facilities.
Folio is optimistic that Caruso’s singular focus on facilities could finally bring positive changes at Sharpe.
“Caruso is very insightful and open to ideas,” Folio said. “[He] likely has not been provided the information he needs to do this job and be successful, and that’s the concern I have.
“The same level of obfuscation in the past, I think, appears to be continuing at Sharpe today.”
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