On Tuesday, Reta Mays, a former nursing assistant at the Louis A.
Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was present in the courtroom and verbally acknowledged that she was pleading guilty to eight felonies. Seven counts of second-degree murder related to the deaths of seven veterans and one count of assault with intent to commit murder.
The judge accepted the plea and Mays were placed to the custody of US Marshals after the hearing that was streamed on Zoom. She will remain in jail until sentencing.
While working the overnight shift, Mays administered deadly doses of insulin, a hormone used to treat patients with diabetes, to veterans who had been admitted to the hospital for a variety of issues related to old age. Like all nursing assistants at the medical center, Mays was not authorized to administer medication, including insulin.
According to court documents, none of the patients required care in the intensive care unit or were close to death. Some were not even diabetic.
The seven veterans died from July 2017 through June 2018 from severe hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by lower than normal blood sugar that is a known effect of administering insulin to a non-diabetic patient or administering more than the prescribed dosage to an insulin-dependent diabetic patient.
The VA Office of the Inspector General released a statement after Tuesday’s hearing describing the events at the medical center as “tragic and heartbreaking.”
“This case is particularly shocking because these deaths were at the hands of a nursing assistant who was entrusted with providing compassionate and supportive care to veterans. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims,” it said.
The hearing comes after long months of the internal investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs that culminated in a referral for criminal investigation.
Based on the court documents, in June 2018, a medical doctor at the VA facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia, first reported concerns about sudden deaths of patients, including multiple non-diabetic patients, who had suffered unexplained hypoglycemic episodes in a part of the VA facility known as Ward 3A.
Mays was relieved from her position in patient care shortly after those concerns were raised.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs announced in August that it was investigating 11 suspicious deaths at the facility and was looking into “potential wrongdoing.”
“Immediately upon discovering these serious allegations, Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center leadership brought them to the attention of the VA’s inspector general while putting safeguards in place to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients,” a spokesperson for the facility said at the time.