Nursing assistant deemed person of interest in 3 VA hospital homicides

Authorities have identified a former nursing assistant as a "person of interest" in the deaths of at least three patients who died after receiving unnecessary insulin injections at Clarksburg, W.Va.-based Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, according to The Washington Post.

A 14-month-long Department of Veterans Affairs inquiry found 11 male veterans in the hospital's medical-surgical unit were improperly injected with insulin from 2017-18. Administered late at night, the insulin caused patients' blood-sugar levels to fatally plunge.

The nursing assistant, who was fired for lying on her resume, has not been formally charged. Authorities said they believe the employee had improper access to the medical supply room and unlocked medicine carts. After conducting interviews with hospital staff members, authorities from the FBI and VA learned that the nursing assistant would walk the unit with a bedside glucose meter at night, pricking patients' fingers to test blood sugar. In one case, she allegedly pricked a patient 12 times in one night, medical staff told The Washington Post. The hospital has since required more rigorous tracking of its medications. 

"Immediately upon discovering these serious allegations, Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center leadership brought them to the attention of VA's independent inspector general while putting safeguards in place to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients," Wesley Walls, a spokesperson for the hospital, said in a statement to The Washington Post. "It's important to note that regulations and protocols can only do so much to protect against criminal activity."

The deaths under investigation constitute almost half of all deaths reported at the 70-bed hospital from late 2017 to June 2018. The hospital's mortality statistics, reviewed monthly by the quality staff, showed death rates twice as high as similar VA hospitals for the first half of 2018. 

A possible motive is still unknown. While three deaths have been ruled homicides, the presence of insulin was not strong enough in the four other patients to determine a homicide.

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