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Former VA Nursing Aide Sentenced for Killing Elderly Veterans with InsulinOn May 11, a former nursing aide was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms with an additional 20 years in federal prison for murdering seven elderly patients in a VA hospital. The additional 20 years are for assault with intent to commit murder on an eighth patient. Reta Mays, 46, is not eligible for probation and was ordered to pay restitution to the victims’ families.

Telling her that the she was “the monster that no one sees coming,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh also said, “but you’re not special. None of these folks are killers, let alone serial killers,” referring to the fact that he sees many defendants in his courtroom who have led hard lives.

Details of the case

In 2020, Mays pleaded guilty to murdering seven veterans and attempting to murder another at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, between July 2017 and June 2018. The victims, all men, ranged in age from 81 to 96 and all died in the same manner – by a fatal injection of insulin, leading them to die of severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). They were all injected into their abdomens or limbs with insulin they were not prescribed, some with multiple injections.

None of the patients were near death when she approached them (some were close to being released), and Mays was working overnights with little supervision. She was also easily able to get insulin off medical carts where it was sitting unprotected, or from unsecured supply rooms.

Mays’ arrest and subsequent conviction was part of a three-year investigation into a wave of mysterious deaths at the VA hospital, unveiling a pattern that hospital authorities should have detected much earlier, possibly preventing unnecessary deaths and suffering on the part of the victims’ families.

A final report released when Mays was sentenced detailed failings on the part of the VA. Although Mays had been accused of using excessive force in her previous job as a corrections officer, there was no evidence the VA reviewed those records at any point before or during her employment. The report also noted that, had a proper background check been performed, Mays may have been disqualified from being hired at the VA altogether.

“A string of oversights cost lives”

When we make the decision to place our loved one in a nursing home or hospital when they need help caring for themselves, we never make it lightly. Patients deserve excellent care that is appropriate to their medical needs, including from compassionate and qualified nurses. When a facility fails a patient or resident in this care, horrific tragedies like what happened at Ward 3A at the VA Medical Center occur.

According to USA Today, “a string of oversights at the hospital may have cost veterans’ lives. Insulin wasn’t adequately tracked, and there were no surveillance cameras on Ward 3A. Staff didn’t conduct tests to figure out why patients experienced severe episodes of low blood sugar. Nor did they file reports that could have triggered investigations.”

By the time doctors at the VA alerted supervisors at the VA hospital about the suspicious deaths, eight patients had already died. Authorities say there may be 10 unexplained deaths, including the ones to which Mays confessed.

When hospital and nursing home negligence hurts people

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General released an in-depth report detailing the care and oversight deficiencies related to these deaths and injuries. In their report, they listed six areas with deficits that likely led to the patients’ deaths.

  • Mays’ hiring and performance
  • Medication management and security
  • Clinical evaluations of unexplained hypoglycemic events
  • Reporting of and responding to events
  • Quality programs and oversight activities
  • Facility and leaders’ responses and corrective actions

The report also found that the facility “had serious, pervasive, and deep-rooted clinical and administrative failures that contributed to Ms. Mays’ criminal actions not being identified and stopped earlier. The failures occurred in virtually all the critical functions and areas required to promote patient safety and prevent avoidable adverse events at the facility.”

All hospital and nursing home patients are owed a duty of care, meaning that the patient entrusts the facility with their health and safety. In South Carolina, nursing home residents have their own Nursing Home Bill of Rights, which includes the following:

  • All residents should be given a written copy of their rights, the charges, and refund policies
  • Residents also have the right to choose their own attending physician, the right to be informed about their medical care, and to participate in decisions about their medical treatment
  • The right to refuse experimental treatments

When a facility fails in this duty, through abuse or neglect, and a loved one suffers injury, you may want to consult with an experienced attorney. Compassionate counsel can work with you to investigate what is happening to your loved one, if it is happening to other residents, and find out who is responsible.

Melanie Proctor, whose father Felix McDermott was killed by Mays, points blame at the VA. “My dad loved that system,” she told the Washington Post. “You feel bad going after them, but if you don’t want to tell me what you’re doing to fix this so this never happens to anyone else, you’re stuck with me going after you.”

At McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, our nursing home neglect attorneys protect the rights of the elderly across South Carolina. If you believe your loved one may be experiencing abuse in a nursing home or long-term care hospital, we can help. To schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.