The rule of thumb in public relations is, if you have bad news, release the information on Friday afternoon. If you have really bad news, release it just before a holiday weekend.
That must have been what the United States Veterans Administration had in mind when, on Christmas Eve last week, it revealed changes at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg stemming from the murders of eight patients.
According to a release from the VA, the moves are in response to a VA Administrative Investigation Board’s report “focusing on patient safety issues and culture” at the medical center.
Veterans Health Administration’s Executive in Charge, Dr. Richard Stone, announced that hospital administrator, Dr. Glenn Snider, Jr., is being replaced, a nursing leadership team is being brought in, a retraining program in reporting urgent issues is being put in place and the medical center will “stand down” for a period and not accept new patients, except for emergencies or for Covid-19 cases.
Reta Mays, a former night shift nursing assistant at the hospital, pleaded guilty earlier this year to seven counts of second degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit an eighth. Mays injected aging veterans with insulin they were not prescribed to receive, triggering severe hypoglycemia that caused their deaths. She faces life in prison when sentenced.
“Here we are, two-and-a-half years later, and they’re just now really starting the process… of trying to make changes. That’s just really unacceptable,” he said.
O’Dell is right. The veterans were murdered between 2017 and mid-2018 when the hospital finally notified the VA Inspector General. However, the public—and veterans who use the hospital’s services—did not learn of the investigation until a year later when a victim’s family came forward.
VA officials said very little after that, citing the ongoing investigation by the Inspector General and the FBI. One exception was Dr. Stone’s tone deaf editorial in November 2019, where he said, “no hospital is immune to the harm that a determined bad actor can cause” and blamed the media for disparaging the VA and its staff.
Stone also said at that time that the VA “worked quickly to address the problem.” If that is the case, why are the changes just being made—or at least announced—more than two years after the VA first learned of the suspicious deaths?
The reorganization steps at the medical center are a start, but they do not address how and why the untimely and suspicious deaths of the veterans went undetected over a period of months. What systems failed to detect Mays ghastly murders and why did they fail?
We still do not know what motivated Mays to kill those men. She was prosecuted for eight deaths, but O’Dell believes she could be responsible for as many as ten more. He is now reviewing Mays work schedule to see if she was on duty when the other veterans died.
O’Dell suspects the VA may be trying to get out in front of the Inspector General’s report, which should provide a much more thorough explanation of how Mays could have gotten away with her heinous deeds for so long.
The veterans who rely on the Louis A. Johnson Medical Center for their care, and the public that pays for those services, deserve to know the whole truth. That means a full and detailed report on the investigation, not just a press release before a holiday.