The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center has suspended surgeries that require overnight stays pending an investigation into the death of a veteran who died after a hernia operation.
VA medical inspectors are looking into the June 25 death of retired Army Sgt. Ray Velez, 61, of Junction City.
Velez went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance en route to Sacred Heart at RiverBend in Springfield.
Valez fell ill after the surgery and was being driven to Springfield because the intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg was full.
The case has raised questions whether the hospital is equipped to handle life-threatening emergencies. The Douglas County Veterans Forum has been pressing the Roseburg VA to restore its ICU, which was closed in 2009.
Dan Ritchie, executive assistant to Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain, said Tuesday the medical center will continue to perform “ambulatory surgeries,” in which patients go home the same day. Other surgeries were suspended Aug. 14.
VA officials are calling the suspension of more complicated surgeries temporary. Ritchie said the hospital doesn’t know how long the investigation will take.
“It could be a month. It could be years. I don’t have a handle on that because it’s so specific there’s not a standard,” Ritchie said.
Bogedain told members of the Douglas County Veterans Forum gathered Tuesday at the American Legion Hall on Southeast Oak Avenue that if there is any change in the VA’s services they will be “the first ones to know.”
“There’s not a lot of secrets in this world, especially in the VA,” Bogedain said.
Forum President Jim Little said Tuesday he has confidence the VA will report the results of its investigation to veterans.
“It may or may not be that an ICU would have saved (Velez’s) life. We don’t know,” Little said.
He said the forum will continue to push for the ICU’s restoration, and that he hopes the suspension of complex operations will not become permanent.
“The veterans here, naturally, we want the best health care we can get,” he said. “We still say ‘ICU, ICU.’ We’re like a broken record.”
Ritchie said it is too early to say whether the ICU could be restored as a result of the current investigation.
“Right now, everything is kind of under serious discussion,” he said.
Ritchie said the VA will help veterans schedule surgeries at VA hospitals in Portland or Seattle or at non-VA hospitals.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.