Former nursing aide sentenced for 8 patient deaths at VA facility with 'serious, pervasive' issues

Reta Mays, a former nursing assistant, was sentenced May 11 for murder and assault charges in the deaths of eight veterans at Clarksburg, W.Va.-based Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Ms. Mays, 46, received seven consecutive life sentences, one for each murder, and an additional 240 months for an eighth victim, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Randolph Bernard. 

In July, the former nursing assistant pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder. Ms. Mays worked the night shift during the same period of time that the veterans in her care died of hypoglycemia. Ms. Mays has admitted to administering insulin to several patients with the intent to cause their deaths, though nursing assistants at the facility aren't authorized to administer medication.

Ms. Mays must pay a total of $172,624.96 to the victims' families, the VA Hospital, Medicare and insurance companies.

"While responsibility for these heinous criminal acts lies with Reta Mays, an extensive healthcare inspection by our office found the facility had serious and pervasive clinical and administrative failures that contributed to them going undetected," VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in the May 11 news release.

This investigation, which began in June 2018, involved more than 300 interviews; the review of medical, phone, social media and computer records; consulting forensic experts and endocrinologists; the exhumation of some of the victims; and the review of hospital staff and visitor records to assess potential interactions.   

"The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center grieves the loss of each of these Veterans and extends our deepest condolences to their families, loved ones and the Clarksburg community," Wesley Walls, a spokesperson for Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, said in an emailed statement to Becker's. "For the sake of all of West Virginia Veterans and their families, we are grateful for the independent OIG's investigation into this matter. What happened at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center was heartbreaking, and we want to ensure veterans and families know we are determined to rebuild their trust.

"While this matter involving an isolated employee does not represent the quality healthcare tens of thousands of North Central West Virginia Veterans have come to expect from our facility, it has prompted a number of improvements that will strengthen our continuity of care and prevent similar issues from happening in the future. Also, while we cannot bring back loved ones lost, VA has reached financial settlements with over a half dozen families of veteran victims via the Federal Tort Claims Act.

"The VA OIG Report focuses on events that occurred from July 2017 to June 2018. During the OIG investigation, VA put in place safeguards to enhance patient safety, including medical chart audits, checks and balances within pharmacy quality assurance processes and quality management reviews. 

The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center has started implementing each of the OIG’s recommendations, which are expected to be completed by March 31, 2022." 

Mr. Walls included numerous other initiatives the facility has already implemented, including patient care, education, standardization and tracking, leadership and culture, and overall enterprise processes improvements.

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