The story of Reta Mays has sent shockwaves through the community of Clarksburg, West Virginia, and nationwide. In the 3 years that she worked as a nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, Mays killed seven veterans by administering fatal overdoses of insulin.
Mays pleaded guilty in federal court last month to seven counts of second-degree murder and an additional count of attempted murder. One of her victims was the grandfather of Tina Hickman, a neighbor of Mays’s in nearby Reynoldsville.
Archie Edgell, Hickman’s grandfather, was a veteran of the Korean War. At the time of his death, Edgell was 84 and suffering from dementia. He survived one attempt on his life by Mays before succumbing to a second overdose of insulin.
The Edgell family and others who lost loved ones due to Mays’s crimes are seeking answers, particularly why such a series of deaths went unnoticed. The VA hospital has implemented stricter controls on access to insulin and other drugs, but it has not instituted a review to determine how the errors were allowed to occur.
“They act like nothing’s happened here. They hired a serial killer who killed seven veterans.”
The Mays case raises a number of worst-case-scenario fears for families with elderly or disabled loved ones in long-term care facilities. Whether it is nursing home abuse and neglect or malpractice in a hospital or other medical center, vigilance is key for keeping your relative safe.
How to Find the Right Healthcare Facility
The first and most important step for your loved one’s health and well-being is to find a facility that serves his or her particular needs. The West Virginia Health Care Authority provides definitions of the types of services offered by various kinds of institutions. Each type of facility is subject to different regulations and licensing requirements.
Once you find the appropriate type of institution, it is crucial to tour the facility. As you do so, take not of the following:
1. Is the Facility Clean?
Hygienic practices are crucial for the health and well-being of patients or residents. Rooms, hallways, common areas, and other locations should be sanitized and free of clutter and debris.
2. Do Patients or Residents Seem Well-Adjusted?
It is not easy to have to surrender your independence due to age, illness, or disability. However, if the patients or residents generally seem edgy or withdrawn, this could be a sign of mistreatment by the staff.
3. Do All of the Patients or Residents Seem Sluggish or Fatigued?
Medication errors represent some of the most common instances of abuse, neglect, and malpractice in healthcare settings. These include:
- Failure to provide scheduled medications in the prescribed doses
- Providing the incorrect medication
- Using medications as a form of chemical restraint
- Withholding medication to punish a patient or resident
- Stealing medications for illicit personal use or illegal sale
Fatigue and confusion are common in nursing home residents with dementia. However, if most or all of the patients or residents demonstrate these signs, they may be under- or overmedicated.
4. Is the Staff Considerate?
Whether interacting with a doctor, a nurse, or a nonclinical staffer, each person you speak with should be welcoming and courteous. Their interactions with patients or residents should be the same.
5. Do Staff Members Answer Questions?
Every member of staff should recognize the difficulty of the decision you and your family are making to entrust a loved one to their care. They should be willing and able to answer all of your questions, including the difficult ones.
You should also find out if the family is involved in the care plan for patients or residents, as well as if the staff implements orders.
How to Keep Your Loved One Safe in a Healthcare Setting
After your loved one is admitted to the facility, it is important to visit him or her regularly. Visits with family are crucial for keeping up the spirits of someone who is elderly, infirm, or ill, and they are your opportunity to check on their condition and how the facility is caring for your relative. It is also important to communicate and be involved during care plan meetings.
Possible signs that your loved one is being mistreated or neglected include:
1. Bed Sores
These ulcers form when someone who is confined to a bed for long periods of time isn’t turned or adjusted to relieve pressure on the skin.
2. Malnutrition or Dehydration
Your loved one may experience unexplained weight loss or physical weakness if he or she is denied food and drink. Bed sores are also indicative of malnutrition and/or irregular bathing.
3. Worsening of Medical Conditions
Some health issues lead to an inevitable decline. However, if your relative’s condition deteriorates and the staff members aren’t giving you straight answers as to why, this could be a red flag.
4. Missing or Delayed Medication
Timely administration of medication is crucial for managing pain and the symptoms of any medical conditions. If your loved one reports missing doses or they experience difficulties that should be relieved by medication, the staff may not be maintaining the schedule for your loved one’s medication.
5. Your Loved One Seems Nervous or Agitated
Ultimately, you know your relative’s personality. It may change with the onset of age and medical challenges, but you likely know how your loved one will behave in a given situation. If something seems consistently “off” about his or her behavior when you visit, it could be a result of abuse or neglect.
How an Attorney Can Help
Errors and misconduct on the part of healthcare workers can be extremely difficult to spot. In the Reta Mays case, for example, Mays exploited a flaw in the VA hospital’s patient monitoring software that enabled the critically elevated blood sugar levels in her victims to go undetected until it was too late.
Cases of medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, and other misconduct in healthcare facilities are complex. Thorough investigation is required to get to the bottom of what happened to your loved one, as well as in-depth knowledge of complicated laws and regulations.
You need experienced attorneys to help you in these matters. At Colombo Law, our lawyers have experience with complex litigation, and we don’t back down from holding corporations and large institutions accountable for the harm they cause.