DHHR leaders say they’ll change staff vetting after multiple contract employees arrested

Multiple employees at a state-run psychiatric hospital have been recently arrested for crimes, including murders that occurred off-site

By: - November 17, 2023 6:00 am
Truist Tower sits next to One Davis Square, with trees and other plants out front.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, located at One Davis Square in Charleston, W.Va. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Leaders with the state health department said they’ll “conduct an internal review” and change their staff vetting process at William R. Sharpe, Jr., Hospital, which serves patients with disabilities, some of whom are nonverbal. 

The announcement in a press release came hours after West Virginia Watch published a story revealing that multiple Sharpe staff members were arrested and charged with crimes in the last six months.

The hospital in Weston is operated by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

“To address recent issues with contract staff violating policies at [Sharpe], DHHR will conduct an internal review and will meet with all vendors to reiterate hospital policies and standards,” the department said on Nov. 15. 

“Safeguarding and advancing patient safety is DHHR’s top priority,” the release continued.

Two former employees were recently arrested and charged in murders that did not occur at the hospital — the most recent arrest occurring last week. In September, a different employee was charged for having a sexual relationship with a Sharpe patient

All of them were contract employees provided by hospital staffing companies.

DHHR, experiencing a hospital staff shortage, has relied on dozens of hospital staffing companies to provide nurses, nurse assistants and service workers at Sharpe. 

In the news release, DHHR said Sharpe “will transition from phone interviews to virtual or in-person interviews for all contract nursing staff,” which illuminated the hospital’s hiring process for contract staff.

The news release also stressed that the department continues to require a comprehensive background check.

Disability Rights West Virginia, the federally-mandated advocacy group for patients with disabilities, maintained that the screening process was not thorough, contributing to the recent arrests of employees. 

DRWV is grateful that DHHR finally recognizes that its current process that contributed to the hiring of staff who have been charged with violent criminal acts requires an overhaul,” said Mike Folio, the organization’s legal director. “However, DHHR’s desire to conduct an internal review and seemingly exclude DRWV from the review fosters a lack of transparency and promotes concerns of concealment.”

There have also been ongoing issues at Sharpe regarding patient treatment, and DRWV said the state is “warehousing patients” at the hospital without any plans for discharge back into communities. Sharpe, a 150-bed facility, was never meant to house patients long term. 

A state inspection of Sharpe this year showed patients continued to linger in the hospital without adequate treatment plans.

DRWV is working with DHHR and community-based clinicians on the peer review of involuntary commitments,” Folio said. DRWV remains committed to assisting DHHR and holding [the department] accountable to ensure vulnerable persons are protected.”

State lawmakers recently toured the troubled facility; they plan to introduce legislation during the 2024 Legislative Session to potentially address some of the hospital’s issues.  


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Amelia Ferrell Knisely
Amelia Ferrell Knisely

Amelia is an investigative reporter for West Virginia Watch. Her coverage regularly focuses on poverty, child welfare, social services and government.