Two top administrators and a social worker at Western State Hospital were fired today by the institution's director, a man they have publicly accused of allowing patient abuse and negligence at the huge state-run facility.
Hospital Director Williams Burns charged the two administrators, Social Services Director Brendan Buschi and Quality Assurance Director Gary Hardley, had "participated in a concerted effort to undermine the safe and effective operation of Western State Hospital."
The firings were immediately protested by both of the workers and the Virginia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which charged that Burns was retaliating for the workers' decisions to tell the public about conditions at the Staunton hospital. Chan Kendrick, Virginia ACLU director said: "The bottom line seemns to be that individuals who brought patient abuse to public attention have been fired or suspended."
The six hospital workers Burns disciplined released a statement calling the actions "unwarranted and unprovoked" and "the most recent in a long series of harassments these employes have suffered," but would not indicate whether they planned to appeal the decision.
Burns, who rejected the workers' accusations as untrue, said in a letter to Dennis Draper Jr., the fired social worker, that his continued employment was "not in the best interests of the patients." Three other social workers, whom Burns ordered suspended for a week without pay, contributed to "a disruption of patient care activities that reached an intolerable point of continuance," the director said in other letters. Two other social workers are expected to receive disciplinary actions next week.
Buschi and Hardley have been the principal spokesmen for hospital workers who for more than a year had been complaining to state officials about conditions at the troubled 1,050-patient hospital, which annually handles hundreds of acutely ill mental patients from Northern Virginia.About a dozen workers discussed their allegations this spring with The Washington Post, which published a series on the hospital.
The articles included charges that male patients in one hospital ward were routinely subjected to homosexual assaults, that chronically ill and physically vulnerable patients in another ward were improperly mixed with accused criminals, and that more than 250 allegedly "voluntary" patients were illegally confined for years without being notified that they had the right to leave the hospital.
Hospital officials, including Burns, conceded the problems existed but said they were being corrected. Burns had denied charges that the employes had been harassed for pursuing their allegations and pledged no staff member would be disciplined for talking to the press.
On the week the Post series ran Buschi and Hardley were suspended temporarily for alleged violations of hospital regulations. Hardley's three-day suspension was dismissed as unwarranted by state mental health officials, and Buschi's five-day suspension was thrown out earlier this week by an administrative panel whose ruling is being appealed by Burns.
The two officials were suspended again last week, this time for 10 days, along with the six social workers, for refusing to testify before a committee appointed by the state mental health commissioner that was conducting hearings into the charges. The employes contended the hearings were a "whitewash" and structured to prevent their allegations from being fully aired.
Burns denied the firings were connected to the Post series. "My preference certainly would be that they give the existing channels an opportunity to work rather than bring them [the complaints] to the media . . . but I'm not saying that's the reason" for the firings, said Burns. He added that "There was little interest by some few employes to see these controversies resolved in a mature manner."
The firings were supported by Gov. John N. Dalton's Secretary of Human Resources, Jean Harris, who said through a spokesman that the actions were not reprisals against the employes for their role in exposing hospital conditions