Guilty plea solves only part of the mystery of veterans deaths

The lengthy investigation into the murders of patients at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Medical Center in Clarksburg has taken a significant step toward resolution with the guilty plea of a former hospital nursing assistant.

Reta Mays appeared in federal court yesterday and pleaded guilty to seven counts of second degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder for the deaths of eight veterans.  By the FBI’s definition (a series of three or more killings) that makes Mays a serial killer.

Mays’ actions were unconscionable and ghastly. She injected the patients with insulin, even though they were not diabetic, triggering hypoglycemic events and death.

Had Mays gone to trial and been convicted, she could have faced the death penalty. The plea takes that off the table, but it is highly unlikely she will ever get out of prison.

Mays plea is a long-awaited reckoning.  The families of the victims have had to come to terms with the reality that their loved ones were murdered, and that those homicides took place in a facility that is part of the VA, whose mission is to provide “world class benefits and services” that veterans have earned.

But this story is not over yet.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General is still investigating the deaths.  Its final report, whenever it is released, should offer additional insights into what went wrong at the hospital.

Additionally, several families have filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs, hospital officials and health care providers at the hospital.  Tony O’Dell, the attorney for several of the victims’ families, charges that the hospital and staff failed to identify the pattern of deaths of patients on floor 3A that occurred over about a 12 month period between 2017 and 2018.

O’Dell argued in a suit on behalf of family of deceased veteran Felix McDermott that the problems on 3A were an open secret. “Emergency department staff openly commented that if patients were admitted to Floor 3A that they would die.”

O’Dell also argues in his suit that the hospital was slow in reporting the unexplained deaths to the Office of the Inspector General.

The hospital has said it does not comment on pending litigation, and it has repeatedly maintained that it followed procedures by reporting the deaths to the OIG.  That is true, but should the hospital have noticed the deadly pattern sooner and did it follow proper procedures for disclosing adverse and sentinel events?

Mays’ guilty pleas do not answer those questions.



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