CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Another West Virginia veteran who died under suspicious conditions has been revealed, prompting a lawyer for the victim’s family to reiterate the similar circumstances of about 10 fatalities.
Attorney Tony O’Dell today described the death of a 92-year-old naval veteran of World War II. His identity is not being revealed yet until his family gives approval.
Five other victims have been identified publicly. They include veterans William Alfred Holloway, Felix Kirk McDermott, George Nelson Shaw, Archie Edgell and John Hallman.
“Our hearts go out to the families affected by these tragic deaths,” Wesley Walls, a spokesman for the Louis A. Johnson VA hospital in Clarksburg stated Monday evening.
Additional deaths are apparently being investigated, but the victims have not yet been identified. The cases share several characteristics.
Each patient was on 3A of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. And each experienced crashing blood sugar before dying. Most had no history of diabetes and were not supposed to receive insulin injections.
The most recent victim to be described also had not been expected to die.
“He was in good shape for a man his age. He was mobile, had all of his mental faculties, very healthy,” O’Dell said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
But he developed pneumonia, was taken June 15, 2018, to the emergency room in Elkins and then was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. He was provided with fluids, O’Dell said, and the infection started to clear.
“He’s sitting up in bed, talking with his family, eating normally,” O’Dell said.
On June 17, 2018, the patient was moved from the ICU to 3A, a unit where all the other mysterious deaths occurred.
“All of a sudden at 5 o’clock in the morning, he is found unresponsive,” O’Dell said.
His blood sugar levels had plunged. Normal blood sugar levels for a non-diabetic range from 70 to 130 mg/dL. At 5:30 a.m., the patient was at 14.
“This man was not a diabetic. He never had anything like this,” O’Dell said.
His body crashed, resulting in a heart attack. He lived for several days and then died in hospice.
An autopsy was performed on the man, but decomposition meant that it was inconclusive for insulin injections.
“But there is no other explanation for this individual, a non-diabetic, having blood sugar at that level,” O’Dell said. “There’s no other explanation.”
The deaths are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Inspector General for the VA. Those involved with the case have suggested a person of interest no longer works at the VA but has not yet been arrested.
The Washington Post reported last month that the person of interest initially was transferred to a desk job, and then was fired after a few months. She was accused of falsely claiming on her resume that she was certified as a nursing assistant.
O’Dell said the family of the latest victim understands the criminal investigation takes time to nail down evidence.
“They want this person brought to justice. They understand that the criminal side of the investigation takes a while to dot their Is and cross their Ts.
“But this family is disappointed in the hospital side of the investigation of this case because there were so many system failures that we know about. That part is very troubling.”
O’Dell, who has filed claims with the VA on behalf of several families, delineated several ways oversight seemed to break down.
“This VA medical center hired an unqualified who turned out to be the person of interest. She was in fact an imposter. We know the VA Medical Center violated its own high risk medication policy and left insulin around on a cart for anyone to get. We know all of these victims had a severe hypoglycemic medical event that resulted in serious injury and death. We know the VA Medical Center did not label any of these a sentinel event,” he said.
“In order to fix a mistake you first have to admit a mistake, and there were a lot of mistakes made at this VA Medical Center.”
Wesley Walls, the spokesman for the VA hospital in Clarksburg, said the independent Inspector General’s Office has main investigatory role. Walls noted that the VA reported the suspicious deaths to the Inspector General in late June 2018.
“The fact that VA fired the individual at the center of these allegations offers a small measure of accountability, but it is now incumbent on VA’s independent inspector general, which has been investigating this issue for more than a year, to deliver justice.
“This was an isolated incident involving a single, now-fired person, and the notion that policies and protocols can somehow stop those intent on committing crimes strains credulity.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) November 4, 2019