By JOHN G. WOLFE
Although under a court order to reduce the number of employee vacancies at Willliam R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital, the number of unfilled openings at the mental health facility continues to grow.
Last year, when in court, the Department of Health and Human Resources indicated that the number of vacancies at Sharpe was estimated at 48. According to Sharpe Interim CEO Kim Walsh, the number of employee vacancies as of July 17 stood at 90, including 52 direct care positions. Since January, Sharpe has hired 38 full-time staff and 41 temporary, direct-care staff.
The inability of the DHHR to fill vacant positions has long been a concern of local legislators, including Delegate Peggy Donaldson Smith, who believes the department needs to make more of an effort to recruit employees to properly care for patients and help alleviate many employee complaints about mandatory overtime and unsafe working conditions.
A continuous concern expressed by veteran employees at Sharpe is the use of contracted workers to fill vacant positions. Contracted workers are paid more than regular employees, a sore spot among those who have worked at the hospital for years.
When asked about rumors that the DHHR plans to hire up to 60 contracted, or temporary employees, Walsh responded, "There has been no precise number identified; however, we have and continue to recruit and train sufficient numbers of contract staff to support staffing needed based on acuity of our patient population. Our focus remains on hiring employed staff into all positions with the goal of reducing the need for contract staff over time as we evolve our employed compliment."
Employee Union President Donna Morgan takes exception with Walsh's comments, particularly with regards to the "focus." She said, "As of July 1, Sharpe hospital administration admits that it currently has nearly 100 unfilled staff vacancies, and intends to add many expensive and temporary contract employees, nearly doubling the number already under contract at the facility.
"According to their own estimate, they have only hired 38 permanent staff workers in the last six months. Six years ago, however, DHHR signed a court agreement promising to adopt measures that would recruit staff and retain existing staff in order to eliminate mandatory overtime and reliance on temporary workers, and to use full-time employees working regular shifts or voluntary overtime.
"The agency, since that time, engaged in repeated delays and obstructions in the implementation of those measures it had agreed to adopt. DHHR's continued history of bad faith in realizing the objective of stabilizing a permanent and reliable workforce capable of meeting the required level of patient care is well-documented.
"Current assurances that the agency is engaged in a good faith effort to recruit and retain adequate staffing are, consequently, not credible. Resorting to a costly and temporary fix by hiring contract employees instead of permanent workers is evidence of a continued administrative neglect and incompetence."
Officer on Leave
After Man Dies
A Weston police officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of what Weston Police Chief R.Z. Posey hopes will be an investigation conducted by an independent agency outside of his office.
The investigation will center on whether or not Patrolman Eric Riddle used excessive force when called to the scene of a public intoxication/public indecency complaint on July 1. The subject involved in the complaint, 57-year-old William Jeffries, was hospitalized after the incident with a fractured neck and died on July 16 at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
On July 1, when Riddle arrived in response to the complaint, he reportedly found Jeffries in an intoxicated state and asked him to submit to a preliminary breath test. Jeffries resisted and a scuffle ensued that ended with Jefferies hitting his head on the police cruiser. He was then transported by Lewis EMS to Stonewall Jackson Hospital and later on to Ruby.
Following the July 1 incident, Chief Posey placed Riddle on unpaid suspension while he could conduct his own investigation. While Jeffries was hospitalized, Chief Posey reviewed the incident utilizing Riddle's body cam video footage and eyewitness accounts. He then lifted Riddle's suspension saying, "I've reviewed the video and have spoken to eyewitnesses to the incident and nothing would indicate the officer used excessive force. I found no violation of department policy or malice on his part during the encounter."
The situation changed when Jeffries died on July 16, and Chief Posey determined more investigation would be needed to determine if Patrolman Riddle acted appropriately and within the bounds of proper procedure and legal requirements.
An autopsy was performed on William Jefferies, the outcome of which will have a major impact on the investigation. The results of the autopsy are not yet available.
The West Virginia State Police declined to handle any investigation, but Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flanigan has said that decision may change when autopsy results are provided. The case has been referred to the FBI to probe possible civil rights violations. It is not known at this time if the FBI has agreed to conduct an investigation
By TIM GREGORY
Jackson's Mill could have some of the cleanest water in the Mountain State, thanks to efforts by staff and campers to keep the grounds free of chemical pollutants.
Matthew Schmuck, WVU Extension Camping Specialist, has wanted to grow the area of the Mill to include more activities for campers and visitors to enjoy.
"What we have here is the original lake that fed all the water needs for Jackson's Mill. It's a man-made damn, it's been long unused since the Mill got city water. We had it stocked and we have native species in there."
Because of the wildlife that use the waters around Jackson's Mill they decided to do some baseline testing to learn more about the quality of the water. As of now they have found zero to no nitrates, phosphates or any other pollutants.
Nitrates can kill wildlife that naturally live in or drink waters like those found at Jackson's Mill. Nitrates are nitrogen - oxygen chemical units that combine with organic and inorganic compounds commonly found in fertilizers.
In humans, if an infant were to swallow water contaminated with nitrate they would become violently ill; if left untreated, would die.
The pH level is quite an important measurement of water. Not only does the pH level affect organisms living in the water, a changing pH level can be an indicator of increasing pollution or any number of environmental factors.
The pH level is a measure of how acidic or how basic water can be from a range of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. "The pH level is almost perfect at seven," said Schmuck, "so it is probably some of the best water quality in the state."
Because it has its own watershed, Schmuck thinks that if they manage it and teach members how to use it leaving no trace they can continue to maintain that almost pristine water quality. "Hopefully everybody enjoys the fishing, the water and everything else," says Schmuck.
This was all accomplished during the first ever Back to Basics weekend. Shcmuck and the WVU Jackson's Mill Extension Service are in the process of creating an outdoor education area which includes: a pay-to-fish program; hiking trials; and a mountain bike loop.
The Mill now has a back-country campsite, where the staff can take campers and teach them how to leave no traces; how to build a fire; and how to hang bear bags and tenting.
"Not only back country living skills," Schmuck said, "but really taking care of the resources and enjoying the outdoors."