Part of a nearly three-year mystery was closed Tuesday when former nursing assistant Reta Mays pleaded guilty to several charges linked to seven deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. A few troubling questions remain, though.
Mays, who, according to investigators, gave lethal injections of insulin to patients who were not diabetic while working a night shift between 2017 and 2018 at the Veterans Affairs facility, was charged with seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of of assault with intent to commit murder. She pleaded guilty hours after the federal charges were filed, which is rare, even in a case like this that involves a criminal information filing instead of an indictment.
Maybe Mays thinks she’s getting off easy by copping to seven murders. There are civil lawsuits out there alleging at least 12 deaths at the facility stemming from unnecessary insulin injections.
It’s appalling enough that several people going into the hospital would be killed by someone charged with their care. Add to it that these were military veterans who had served their country, trusting in the care their country afforded them in return, and it’s that much more heartbreaking and outrageous.
The VA has stated over numerous scandals — spanning the unsanitary conditions at the Walter Reed medical facility to wait times and postponed procedures contributing to patient deaths — that it will do better. It would be nice to believe the organization, but the fact that the pattern surrounding this most recent tragedy wasn’t discovered and dealt with sooner creates more doubt.
And what of Mays? There’s already suspicion she was involved in more deaths that fit the same profile. Was she responsible for any other sinister acts in her time with the VA? Where did she work before she joined the organization? Was there any suspected nefarious activity there? Was there any piece of information out there that could have stopped this before it happened? She was fired long before she was charged. Did she work anywhere else in that time where she could have been a danger to others?
Perhaps some of these topics have already been explored, but the families and friends of victims, and, really, veterans everywhere who rely on the VA for health care, deserve answers. And the VA must not only assure everyone that something like this will never happen again, it must act to ensure that it does not.
Then comes the most difficult question: Why? Only Mays can answer that, and maybe she will at her sentencing hearing. It’s doubtful whatever she has to say would be a point of comfort or clarity for loved ones who took these veterans to the hospital expecting the best of care, only to later receive the worst news imaginable.
Mays deserves the stiffest allowable sentence for her reprehensible acts. The families of victims deserve the impossible — the return of their loved ones. Instead, the best they can hope for is some form of closure.