A Ritchie County woman has filed the first lawsuit surrounding the string of unexpected patient deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg from July 2017 to June 2018.
Retired Army Sgt. Felix “Kirk” McDermott died at the Clarksburg VAMC on April 9, 2018; but it wasn’t until six months later, after being disinterred and autopsied, that his death was ruled a homicide.
A medical examiner found that McDermott had been given an insulin injection in his lower left abdomen, which caused his glucose levels to fall rapidly, according to the complaint filed in federal court.
McDermott’s daughter, Melanie Proctor, names Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie in the filing; along with multiple Clarksburg VAMC employees, including the hospital’s director, Dr. Glenn Snider Jr., and several doctors and nurses assigned to McDermott’s care.
On April 7 and 8, 2018, McDermott showed normal glucose levels, and he was resting with no signs of distress after being admitted on April 6 for pneumonia, according to the complaint.
However, on April 9, at 2 a.m., McDermott was found restless and in pain. A test revealed severe hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels.
The two doctors assigned to McDermott’s care did not order blood insulin tests, among other examinations, to determine why his glucose levels had dropped that far, according to the filing.
McDermott died later that morning.
The lawsuit claims employees failed to report “a noticeable and statistically appreciable high death rate in patients admitted on Floor 3A” of the hospital.
“A clear pattern emerged in these dying patients demonstrating a sudden, unexpected severe decline in their respective medical condition during the night shift hours between 1 and 6 a.m. followed by death in patients admitted on floor 3A,” the lawsuit states.
“In patients who fit this pattern that had glucose testing, the test results revealed sudden severe unexplained hypoglycemia,” the filing states, noting that Floor 3A is not an intensive care floor and only a small number of physicians and nursing staff work that floor during the night shift.
“The [Clarksburg] VAMC night shift staff on 3A knew there was an abnormally high number of patients experiencing sudden unexplained declines and knew that their floor rate for events of sudden severe unexplained hypoglycemia was unheard of in the national hospital industry,” the lawsuit says.
The hospital did not report these deaths until after at least 11 veterans had died from similar severe unexplained declines in health. These incidents occurred between July 20, 2017, and June 18, 2018, according to the complaint.
There also was “communication among the Clarksburg VAMC staff, including Dr. Snider ... about the unexplained deaths long before those deaths were ever reported to the [Office of Inspector General],” the lawsuit states.
The Washington Post reported in February that grand jury proceedings were underway in the case, and investigators suspect a female nurse was injecting nonprescribed patients with insulin.