- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A union representing state employees says the state has not investigated complaints by employees about working conditions at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston.

Workers at the state psychiatric hospital filed 180 complaints in 2013 involving working conditions and perceived as threats to workers’ safety, UE Local 170 President John Thompson told the Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/1m44nFb ).

“We are very concerned about the situation at Sharpe Hospital, regarding the number of injuries suffered at that facility in recent years,” Thompson said.

“We are especially concerned that the Division of Labor and West Virginia OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have taken the position, through some language in the statute, that the state’s largest facilities are exempt from OSHA inspections.”

Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Allison C. Adler said state law extends the state OSHA’s authority to cover public employers but William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital is not a public employer as defined in the law.

Thompson said the union does not support this interpretation of the law.

Adler said the DHHR takes employee and patient safety seriously.

“In addition to the various risks that are faced by all health-care providers, there exists the challenge of responding to potentially violent patients while respecting and maintaining the rights of those same patients to be cared for in an environment that is free from restraint and abuse,” Adler told the newspaper.

“All employee-related incidents are recorded, investigated and reviewed by the facility safety committee and administration to examine best practices and opportunities for improvement,” she said.

She said employees received mandatory training in crisis intervention and prevention programming at orientation. The training continues annually throughout an employee’s tenure.

“Employee training focuses on practices to minimize risk, increase the competence and compassion of employees, improve the quality of information and to implement mechanisms to identify areas to improve care in a safe and caring environment,” Adler said.

Gordon Simmons, a Local 170 organizer, said the crisis training provided employees “is worse than ineffective.”

“It has been used to discipline and even fire workers who so much as raise their arms to block a blow from a violent patient intent on causing physical harm,” Simmons said.

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, said the hospital is understaffed, and employees have to work long shifts “and deal with some pretty dangerous people.”

“When you go into Sharpe Hospital, the place is immaculately clean. It appears the patients are getting really good quality care. The problem is the way the employees are being treated,” Facemire said.

Story Continues →