CLARKSBURG — Problems at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg enabled a person to kill multiple patients, according to an attorney representing families of the victims.
“The VA hospital in Clarksburg had a frightening number of system failures that allowed this person to kill as many people as she did,” attorney Tony O’Dell said on Tuesday. “The fact that these related deaths continued to pile up shows a complete lack of competence and at total lack of human caring.”
Reta Mays, 46, of Harrison County pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder. The bill of information was unsealed on Tuesday and she had reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Mays was a nursing assistant at the medical center.
“The families I represent are all very pleased with the resolution of the criminal charges against Reta Mays and commend U.S. Attorney Bill Powell for his work to bring this side of the case to a close,” O’Dell said. “However, proper accountability does not stop there.”
The first revelation that veterans died under suspicious circumstances was made last year when Melanie Proctor of Ellenboro, the daughter of Felix K. McDermott, who was among those who died, filed a notice of claim to the Veterans Administration.
The notice said investigators believed nine or 10 other veterans may have died under similar suspicious means and there was a person of interest in their deaths.
The civil cases will proceed, said O’Dell, who is with the firm of Tiano O’Dell.
“The victims will march on to get answers and accountability in the civil lawsuit cases. These families and West Virginia’s veterans deserve nothing less,” he said.
The government said Mays became a nursing assistant at the medical center in June 2015 and was assigned to work the nightshift in Ward 3A, a medical surgical unit, at all relevant times cited in the indictment. Authorities were alerted to the deaths by a doctor at the medical center, the indictment said.
“In June 2018, a medical doctor employed by VAMC Clarksburg as a hospitalist reported to the hospitalist’s supervisor a concern about the deaths of patients who had suffered unexplained hypoglycemic episodes on Ward 3A, including the deaths of multiple non-diabetic patients,” the information said. “This concern led to an internal investigation that culminated in a referral for criminal investigation.”
Mays was removed from a position of patient care in July 2018, according to the government. All the deaths were the result of an unprescribed injection of insulin, causing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
She was accused of killing: Robert Edge Sr., 82, in July 2017; Robert Kozul, 89, in January 2018; Archie Edgell, 84, in March 2018; George Shaw, 81, in March 2018; a patient identified as W.A.H., 96, in April 2018; McDermott, 82, in April 2018; and Raymond Golden, 88, in June 2018. The assault with intent to commit murder was of a patient identified as R.R.P., 92, who recovered, but has since passed away.
“Our hearts go out to those affected by these tragic deaths,” said a statement from the medical center released by Wesley Walls, chief of the Public Affairs and Community Relations Service, at Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.
The statement said the Clarksburg VA Medical Center discovered these allegations and reported them to the VA’s independent inspector general more than two years ago. Clarksburg VA Medical Center also fired the individual at the center of the allegations, it said.
“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,” the statement said.
Dino Colombo, who represents the Edgell family, said everyone involved in this case wanted it resolved as quickly as possible. He commended the U.S. attorney for being thorough.
“Everyone is satisfied where we have ended up,” Colombo said. “The (U.S. Attorney’s office) got the results we needed. (Mays) is going to go away for the rest of her life as she should.”
Colombo said the answer he can not get from the VA is when are they going to meet with the families and try to resolve the civil cases.
“The VA hired a serial killer who killed seven people and tried to kill an eighth,” he said. “They have known that for two years and they have done nothing to try to resolves these cases.”
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