The Legal Director of Disability Rights West Virginia delivered some damning testimony Tuesday about operations at Sharpe Hospital, including orders to employees against sharing information to monitors.

Mike Folio testified before the Joint Committee on Health, as the Legislature is holding one of its series of interim sessions.

Disability Rights West Virginia is a government agency that has been operating since 1977, and actively monitors conditions at jails, state hospitals and related facilities. Last year, Folio said his agency spent a total of 883 hours at Sharpe or Bateman, about a quarter of the workload.

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Folio briefly pointed out successes in the operation of Bateman Hospital, but called the overall situation at Sharpe “an abysmal failure.”

At times, Folio specifically criticized DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and top leadership, and even pointed out specific acts by Crouch. He addressed instances in which employees have been told not to speak to DRWV monitors – and one legislator produced an e-mail that corroborates Folio’s claims.

“[Employees] shared with us disconcerting information that they were told by leadership not to talk to DRWV,” Folio said. “And the leadership is back there in the corner [of the House Chamber] because I see them.

“This is what their employees are reporting to us: The more we dig into this, the more we see a pattern, a practice, a custom of concealing information, withholding information, trying to mischaracterize information.

“When you have a nurse, a relatively senior nurse, saying, ‘I can’t give you information’ when we’re there asking about staffing, that’s a significant problem. That’s not how the system is supposed to work.

“That violates federal law; undoubtedly violates federal law.”

Crouch asked to give rebuttal testimony, and was granted the opportunity. He said his agency is transparent, and all employees at Sharpe have the right and responsibility to report irregularities in hospital operations.

But Senator Amy Grady (R-Mason) read an e-mail sent out to Sharpe workers that seems to I ndicate otherwise.

“There is an e-mail that several senators have,” Tully said. “The e-mail was sent out by Shevona Lusk, to Sharpe and Bateman staff concerning disability rights: ‘Everyone: If you receive a message from Disability Rights West Virginia requesting information, don’t provide a response. You need to send a request to Secretary Crouch, April Robertson and Allen Campbell to review. Allen will help with the response.’”

“(The e-mail) only went to CEOs,” Crouch replied. “It was a discussion Shevona (chief operating officer of Office of Health Facilities) and I had – it could have been written better, I agree … there was no indication not to talk to anyone; there’s no indication for anyone not to talk to Disability Rights. It was pushed as something nefarious. There’s no intent there.”

Florio’s testimony also addressed the patient population at Sharpe, where he said the bed capacity has been exceeded 42 percent of the time. He talked about “patient dumping,” where other providers have “dumped” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities patients to being committed to Sharpe. He also complained about geriatric patients being committed to Sharpe, when they could have gone to other, non-psychiatric hospitals such as Hopement, Lakin, etc.

“The reality is this: There are geriatric patients who have no business in a psychiatric hospital,” Folio said. “They’re institutionalized; they should be placed in a nursing home. Unlike DHHR, which is unwilling to give us information, we went to Riverpark (a mental health care hospital in Huntington. … Riverpark gave us a list of 20 geriatric patients who meet the criteria for being placed in a nursing home.

“We have been told, and monitoring revealed, that Secretary Crouch has intervened and stopped the placements of those. It’s more than one confidential informant who has told us that. Why, I don’t know.”

Florio’s testimony is the first audio file, followed by two files of Couch’s testimony.