Former nursing aide faces 7 murder counts in insulin deaths at Veterans Affairs hospital

National News

A former nursing aide at the center of a federal investigation accepted a plea deal Tuesday after being formally charged in a series of suspicious patient deaths at a West Virginia Veterans Affairs medical facility.

Reta Mays faced seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder in connection with the deaths of veterans at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Medical Center in Clarksburg. 

The victims include Robert Edge Sr., Robert Kozul, Archie Edgell, George Shaw, W.A.H, Felix McDermott and Raymond Golden, according to the court document.

Mays, first hired in 2015, is accused of “willfully,” “deliberately” and “maliciously” administering insulin to patients who were not prescribed the drug. Medical experts say when a non-diabetic patient is injected with insulin, it causes the individual’s blood sugar to plummet to dangerously low levels, which could be fatal.  

The United States Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia unsealed the charges Tuesday morning. For the past year, the inquiry has garnered national attention from top officials at the Department of Justice and Veterans Affairs Department as families of the victims have demanded accountability for their loved ones. 

After the charges were announced, Senator Joe Manchin said “justice is finally being served.”

“As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will not stop until we determine how this could have happened, and ensure it never happens again,” he said.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito called the situation at the hospital “sickening.”

“My heart breaks for the families of these veterans and I know I speak for all West Virginians when I say that we are astounded that something like this could happen,” Capito said in a statement.

The suspicious deaths prompted families of the victims to file wrongful death claims last summer, alleging systems failures within the facility that led to multiple similar deaths. 

“You want to know what happened, you want to know who to hold responsible for it,” Melanie Proctor, daughter of retired Army Sergeant Felix Kirk McDermott, told CBS News in an interview last August. “You lose all trust in the system when this happens.”

Felix McDermott
Felix McDermott

Proctor and Niehenke were the first of the families to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their father, in a suit filed by attorney Tony O’Dell of Tiano O’Dell PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia. 

It argues that employees of the VA Medical Center either knew, or should have known, of the wrongful insulin injections that were neither ordered by a doctor nor deemed medically necessary. It also says the hospital failed to thoroughly investigate each of the suspicious deaths and discover the cause, in order to prevent future deaths. 

Both the criminal and civil complaints detail a thread of alleged failures at the hospital that allowed Mays to continue administering unnecessary insulin injections without detection for more than a year. 

Court documents allege the hospital system failed to properly vet Mays for a nursing aide license.

The U.S. Attorney also says the nursing assistant at the facility was not “qualified or authorized” to administer medication, including insulin. 

The Louis A. Johnson Medical Center provided a statement to CBS News, saying: 

Our hearts go out to those affected by these tragic deaths. 

Clarksburg VA Medical Center discovered these allegations and reported them to VA’s independent inspector general more than two years ago. Clarksburg VA Medical Center also fired the individual at the center of the allegations.  

We’re glad the Department of Justice stepped in to push this investigation across the finish line and hopeful our court system will deliver the justice Clarksburg-area Veterans and families deserve.

Last year, a hospital spokesman said the person of interest had met the qualifications to work as a certified nursing assistant. The hospital also said they cooperated fully with the investigation and removed the person of interest from her previous role.

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