A former nursing assistant at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia pleaded guilty on Tuesday to second-degree murder in the deaths of seven patients.
Prosecutors said that Reta Mays, who worked at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va., in 2017 and 2018, administered fatal doses of insulin to military veterans who had not been prescribed it. She also pleaded guilty to a charge of assault with intent to commit murder in the case of an eighth patient who survived.
Ms. Mays, 45, was charged on Monday. Her lawyer said he could not immediately comment because he was about to leave for a hearing in the case. Ms. Mays, in court on Tuesday, answered a series of questions from the judge concerning the terms and conditions of her plea agreement by saying, “Yes, sir.”
For each of the seven second-degree murder charges, she faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and for the count of assault with intent to commit murder, she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Veterans Affairs hospitals, which treat nine million patients annually, have struggled with a number of issues involving management and care that have sent Congress searching for remedies. The department has grappled with the aftermath of a 2014 scandal in which a hospital manipulated waiting lists to hide that veterans were facing long delays to see doctors.
Prosecutors said that a medical doctor at the Clarksburg hospital reported in June 2018 that multiple patients in the ward where Ms. Mays worked had experienced unexplained hypoglycemic episodes. The report led to an internal investigation, and Ms. Mays was removed from her position the next month.
As a nursing assistant who worked the night shift, Ms. Mays was responsible for measuring patients’ vital signs, observing patients who required extra attention and testing patients’ glucose levels. She was not authorized to administer medicine, including insulin, according to a court document.
When patients who do not have diabetes take insulin, or when diabetic patients receive more than the prescribed dose, they risk developing hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause seizures, comas and death.
Wesley Walls, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that “our hearts go out to those affected by these tragic deaths.”
He added: “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.”
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said he hoped that Tuesday’s development will bring some amount of peace to families of the patients.
“While overdue, today justice is finally being served,” he said in a statement. “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.”
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