Staffer at state-run hospital accused of strangling patient; five employees fired

A health service worker at a state-run psychiatric hospital was charged with strangling a patient, and four more workers were fired over allegations that they participated in patient abuse or watched it happen.

The abuse happened this fall at William R. Sharpe Hospital in Lewis County, according to a criminal complaint and a state report on the events there. The situation was first reported by the nearby Shinnston News and Harrison County Journal.

Staff member Michael Coleman, 22, was charged with abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult and strangulation. He was accused of pushing a patient with a traumatic brain injury onto a bed from behind and then getting on top of the man.

“The attack appeared unprovoked,” a State Police trooper wrote in the criminal complaint.

The trooper, Cp. L.D. Mohr, was dispatched to investigate the incident after receiving a report on Sept. 24 from Alisha Myers, an adult protective services worker.

Mohr wrote in the criminal complaint that he went to the hospital and watched video surveillance from days earlier, Sept. 18. The trooper noted that “the entire incident was not captured by the video surveillance camera due to the angle of the camera.

A certified nursing assistant told the trooper that she had walked past the room and saw Coleman with his hands around the patient’s neck.

Another employee told the trooper that he had seen Coleman push the patient onto a bed, get on top of him and place both of his hands around the patient’s neck.

A clerk with the Lewis County magistrate today said the charges against Coleman remain active and that a hearing date has not yet been set. Coleman posted a $3,500 bond Oct. 7.

Sharpe Hospital is a 150-bed acute care psychiatric facility in Weston. It operates under the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

A DHHR report about what happened at Sharpe described an immediate jeopardy complaint that prompted an investigation. That report generally described even broader abuse, making reference to two patients who were abused by three different health service workers.

“The registered nurse and a fourth health service worker watched the abuse of patient No. 1 and did nothing to stop it,” according to that report.

“The abuse of patients needed to be stopped immediately and reported to the proper authorities.”

By the time DHHR looked more deeply into the allegations on Oct. 25, according to the report, reports had been filed for each patient involved in the abuse and all staff involved in the patient abuse were removed from patient care.

Five employees were fired, including one registered nurse and four health services workers. The report noted the arrest of the health services worker, unnamed but presumably Coleman, “who had been identified as the ringleader.”

Staff who remained at the hospital were given training between Sept. 24 and Oct. 15 about abuse and the role of mandatory reporting.

DHHR did not comment on the specifics of what went on at Sharpe but did provide a statement to say what happened there is unacceptable.

“The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will not tolerate patient abuse, patient neglect, or patient exploitation at any of its health care facilities,” stated Alison Adler, communications director for DHHR.

“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.”

Adler said the agency will continue training meant to assure patients are not abused.

“DHHR is committed to protecting and promoting patient safety,” she stated. “While DHHR has a dedicated clinical team, DHHR and independent patient advocates will continue to train DHHR employees and contract staff about patient safety, and DHHR will continue to assist the appropriate authorities in prosecuting persons who compromise patient safety.”

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