Second lawsuit filed in West Virginia VA hospital deaths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A woman is suing the federal government over the 2018 death of her husband from a wrongful insulin injection at a West Virginia veterans hospital.

Norma Shaw’s lawsuit is the second one filed against Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in the past month involving the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. Both suits allege a “widespread system of failures” at the hospital.

Shaw filed the federal lawsuit Monday in the death of her husband, George Nelson Shaw Sr., an 81-year-old retired member of the Air Force.

Federal prosecutors have said they are probing the deaths of up to 11 patients at the hospital.

Norma Shaw’s lawsuit said her husband was admitted to the hospital on March 22, 2018, for lower extremity swelling, fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath. He died on April 10, 2018. A physician determined the cause of death was heart disease and advanced dementia but did not make a mandatory referral to a state medical examiner for an autopsy.

Nine months later, his body was disinterred. An autopsy performed at an air base in Dover, Delaware, found four insulin injection sites on both arms and one leg. His death was ruled a homicide, the lawsuit said.

It said no physician order was issued for the injections and that the hospital failed to securely store insulin and prevent its access by unauthorized personnel. It alleges an employee who administered the injection was not qualified to be a nursing assistant and that hospital staff failed to take appropriate action to stop the employee from giving the shots.

It also said similar sudden deaths occurred on at least seven other occasions from July 2017 to June 2018.

Clarksburg VA hospital spokesman Wesley Walls declined comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. Walls has said after the hospital discovered the allegations, it had “fired the individual at the center of them.”

The lawsuit also said hospital and Veterans Affairs leadership failed to investigate and document the factors that led to the other deaths and failed to notify patients and families about the unexplained pattern of events that could have prevented future deaths, including Shaw’s.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, seeks unspecified damages.

It was filed by Charleston attorney Tony O’Dell, who also filed a notice of a pending lawsuit in October with the Department of Veterans Affairs in the 2018 death of John William Hallman. The notice said the 87-year-old Navy veteran died at the Clarksburg hospital in 2018 from an insulin shot he did not need and caused his blood sugar to spike.

The first lawsuit involving the insulin shots was filed last month by Melanie Proctor in the death of her 82-year-old father, former Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott. That death also has been ruled a homicide.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said the VA inspector general told his office about the opening of a medical and criminal investigation of the hospital in July 2018, after at least nine patients were diagnosed with unexplained low blood sugar.

The VA is the government’s second-largest department, responsible for 9 million military veterans.

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