UPDATE: Eastern State Hospital CEO resigns amid accusations the hospital ignored DV allegations by a former nurse now charged with murder

click to enlarge Eastern State Hospital: under new management for the time being. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Eastern State Hospital: under new management for the time being.

Eastern State Hospital's Chief Executive Officer Mark Kettner has resigned amid a state investigation into how top leadership responded to domestic violence allegations against a former nurse now accused of murder.

Kettner's resignation is effective yesterday, says Washington Department of Social and Health Services spokesperson Tyler Hemstreet. Chief Operating Officer Ronda Kenney has been "temporarily reassigned" as well, he says. 

The former nurse, Joshua Phillips, allegedly stabbed to death an Eastern State employee he'd been dating, Kassie Dewey, and attempted to kill her 5-year-old daughter, court documents say.
In May, the Inlander detailed how Phillips previously was arrested for choking a different Eastern State co-worker he'd dated. But without an internal investigation, and without the hospital reporting the allegations to the state health department, Phillips was allowed to return to work. Staff at Eastern State warned upper-level management that Phillips was dangerous, but they say their concerns were dismissed before Dewey was killed.
click to enlarge Mark Kettner, no longer CEO of Eastern State Hospital
Mark Kettner, no longer CEO of Eastern State Hospital

Last week, the Department of Social and Health Services released an internal review of Phillips' employment via a public records request that further confirmed the Inlander's reporting. Hemstreet confirmed that the personnel investigation into Kettner — now closed due to his resignation — and Kenney is related to the handling of Phillips.


DSHS has named Tony Bowie and Mary Joe Currey as interim CEO and COO, respectively. Bowie previously worked as CEO for the Child Study and Treatment Center at Western State Hospital in Lakewood. Currey previously worked in an administrative role at the Department of Corrections.

The internal review released last week to the Inlander confirms that Eastern State management did not follow its own policies and procedures following Phillips' domestic violence arrest for second-degree assault in July 2019. The review and subsequent report were directed by DSHS assistant secretary Sean Murphy.

The report says management was aware of the charges against Phillips in the summer of 2019, as the Inlander has previously reported. Phillips allegedly strangled a co-worker he was dating who asked that the Inlander identify her by her first name, Jennifer. She says he reacted violently that night when she tried to break up with him.

Still, nobody at Eastern State initiated an internal investigation into Phillips in accordance with a DSHS administrative policy on workplace domestic violence, the review says. That policy stated that Phillips could have been subject to dismissal because of the arrest.
In a decision approved by Kettner, the hospital placed Phillips on alternate assignment in a non-patient care position and he didn't return to work until spring of 2020 due to a medical condition. When he did return, a no-contact order was still in place between him and the victim.


"Eastern State Hospital does not have a clear process for staff to follow when providing a no-contact order to management," the review states. "This was confirmed when various supervisors provided different answers when we asked them what the process was for staff to turn in no-contact orders." 

Phillips pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in June of 2020. While that conviction did not disqualify him from having unsupervised access to vulnerable adults, state Department of Health policy says the hospital, which knew of the conviction, should have notified the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission of the charge. They could have investigated whether Phillips could keep his nursing license.

Meanwhile, staff remained concerned about the safety of Jennifer and other women working with Phillips.

On July 10, 2020, nursing director Shelli Huey sent an email to Kenney relaying concerns.

"This staff is concerned for [Jennifer's] safety — he is still coming to her house, dropping things off etc.", Huey wrote, referencing the staffer who sent her the email.
 
But that summer, Jennifer, who continued to feel terrorized by Phillips, quit and left town.

Jennifer says she still struggles with the abuse she previously suffered by Phillips, especially after seeing what he's alleged to have done to Dewey. She tells the Inlander now that she feels somewhat validated by the internal review and the reassignment of Kettner and Kenney.

"I needed for someone to recognize what they've done to me, the neglect. And it's not just those two [Kettner and Kenney], but also the other managers that knew about it," Jennifer says. "I don't know if anyone realizes that I will never ever be the same."

By the time Jennifer had left Eastern State, Phillips had started dating Dewey, a 35-year-old mental health technician there. On April 9, 2020, Dewey broke up with Phillips, kicking him out of the house and changing the locks on the doors.


Two days later, he sneaked into her detached garage and attacked her, stabbing her 26 times, according to court documents. He also stabbed her daughter, Lilly, charges say.

Phillips remains in Spokane County Jail on $1.5 million bail.

This story was updated Wednesday, Sept. 15, with the news that Eastern State Hospital CEO Mark Kettner has resigned.

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.