Fifth lawsuit filed in deaths at West Virginia VA hospital

JOHN RABY

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The number of lawsuits has grown to five involving the sudden deaths of seven patients at a West Virginia veterans hospital where a former nursing assistant admitted to intentionally giving them wrongful insulin injections.

A federal lawsuit was filed Monday in the March 2018 death of Archie D. Edgell at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. The suit said administrators and staff made no effort to investigate the unexplained deaths and “failed to properly protect Archie Edgell and others veterans from a serial killer” hired by the hospital.

Morgantown attorney Dino Colombo filed the lawsuit on behalf of Edgell's son, Steven Edgell. His father was an 84-year-old Army veteran from Center point.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, is the latest to allege a widespread system of failures at the hospital.

Fired hospital nursing assistant Reta Mays pleaded guilty earlier this month to intentionally killing seven patients with fatal doses of insulin. Mays, 46, faces up to life in prison for each of seven counts of second-degree murder. No sentencing date has been set.

Mays admitted at a plea hearing to purposely killing the veterans, injecting them with unprescribed insulin while she worked overnight shifts at the hospital in northern West Virginia between 2017 and 2018. Her motive is still unclear. U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said authorities did not receive a “satisfactory response” to questions about the reasoning behind her actions.

The lawsuit said the federal government failed to properly train, mentor and supervise Mays or screen her personal and professional background.

Edgell's listed cause of death as advanced dementia was erroneous, the lawsuit said. His physicians “simply wrote Mr. Edgell off as yet another elderly veteran who had died despite his severe, unexplained hypoglycemia,” or low blood sugar.

An autopsy performed nearly nine months later declared Edgell's death a homicide caused by the insulin injection, the suit said.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in the January 2018 death at the hospital of Army veteran Robert Lee Kozul Sr., the April 2018 deaths of Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr. and Army veteran Felix Kirk McDermott and the June 2018 death of Navy veteran John William Hallman.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred B. Westfall Jr. said in a court filing Monday in response to some of the other lawsuits that Mays acted outside the scope of her employment, the federal government should not liable for her criminal conduct and that the suits should be dismissed.

The VA is the government’s second-largest department, responsible for 9 million military veterans. The agency’s former director was fired in 2018 in the wake of a bruising ethics scandal and a mounting rebellion within the agency, and the doctor who President Donald Trump nominated to replace him had to withdraw his nomination amid accusations of misconduct.

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