The Brockton Veterans Affairs Hospital has stepped up security measures but still cannot pinpoint the source of the fentanyl that caused the fatal overdose of a Marine on lockdown supervision there, according to U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch.
The Herald reported this week that Hank Brandon Lee, a 35-year-old former Marine lance corporal, died of acute fentanyl intoxication March 4. Lee had been on lockdown in the VA facility, meaning he was checked by a nurse every 15 minutes and his trips off-site were very limited and closely supervised.
“They cannot determine how the fentanyl came into the possession of Cpl. Lee,” Lynch told the Herald in an interview yesterday. “They can’t rule out anything; it could have been a visitor, it could have been another patient.”
But Lee’s death sparked several changes, Lynch said, including additional surveillance cameras, more drug-sniffing dogs and a three-day period at the beginning of a Veteran’s treatment during which patients are not allowed visitors.
“I think they have taken prudent precautions here, I do,” said Lynch, who said he spoke with VA officials this week regarding Lee’s death.
“They are like a family; they are there trying to protect each other, but they don’t treat them like prison inmates,” the South Boston Democrat said.
“They are Veterans who need help, and they are trying to respect them and give them a bit of space.”
The ward does not operate like a jail, and in common areas, patients do have interactions with one another, Lynch said.
Tiny amounts of fentanyl can be fatal, which Lynch said has made keeping the deadly drugs away from patients at the VA facility a challenge.
“The pill could be smaller than an aspirin,” the congressman said, “so it would be easy to conceal a drug of that dosage.”
Lynch said he’s heard stories of drugs being passed through a perimeter fence at the facility, pills hidden in patient’s ears and drugs in liquid form dabbed on a piece of paper.
Lee’s widow, Jamie Lee Hasted, told the Herald she has not had any communication with the VA about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. Lynch said she deserves answers.
“There should be clear and definitive communication between the VA and the family with respect to how this case was handled,” he said.
Hasted, who lives in Mississippi, is fighting with the VA over survivor benefits and funeral costs, and Lynch has offered to help if authorized to do so.
“I would need some type of authorization to act on their behalf,” Lynch said. “Once I have that, I would fight like hell to get whatever benefits they are due and whatever benefits Cpl. Lee was entitled to.”