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August 25, 2013
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Editorial: Veteran's death, transfer demand answers

The strength and capabilities of Roseburg’s medical facilities, especially its hospitals, are crucial.

Thousands of residents within Douglas County and beyond rely on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center to provide the best possible care in emergencies. They rely on the staff members to make intelligent decisions about their care and transport.

Many military veterans have located in Roseburg to be near the VA. Some county residents move from outlying areas into Roseburg to be closer to Mercy.

Much of the time, praise for the institutions is effusive. One recent tragedy, however, has led to an investigation of the Roseburg VA’s procedures.

Retired Army Sgt. Ray Velez, 61, of Junction City became ill following a hernia operation on June 25 at the Roseburg VA. He died of cardiac arrest in an ambulance on his way to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.

Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain said Friday the case is unusual because it’s the first post-surgical death in three years at the hospital. She said her staff was troubled by the death and launched its own investigation.

One issue centers on why Velez was sent to Springfield rather than Mercy. That question puts the two hospitals at odds.

Bogedain said the hospitals have a good, close working relationship.

“We transfer patients between Mercy and our facility frequently, maybe almost daily,” she said. “They’ve been responsive to us when they have a bed.”

Bogedain said the internal review showed the VA properly followed its protocol for patient transfers by calling the Portland VA, then Mercy and Sacred Heart, before finding space in an intensive care unit for him. (Had the Portland VA had space, Velez would have been airlifted, an uncommon occurrence, from the Roseburg VA).

Mercy spokeswoman Kathleen Nickel reviewed records from that night, however, and said the hospital had space for Velez in its ICU. She said if the ICU had been full, the hospital could have accepted him in the emergency room.

Nickel was unable to determine who spoke with the VA that night. Bogedain said she knows the VA made the call, and the right employee made the call.

“I don’t know what happened on Mercy’s end,” she said.

Bogedain said further details on the Velez case should be revealed when the investigation by the VA’s medical inspector is complete. She said the report will look at the patient’s condition, the actual surgical procedure and the care provided. The inspector will try to find opportunities where the VA could improve its care.

Meantime, the Roseburg VA has suspended surgeries that require an overnight stay. Bogedain said surgeries for just six veterans had to be rescheduled. She said perhaps 10 percent of the surgeries performed at the Roseburg VA require an overnight stay.

Since the VA closed its ICU in 2009, the Douglas County Veterans Forum and Oregon’s federal lawmakers have pushed to have it reopened.

Bogedain said it’s not unusual for a hospital the size of Roseburg to be without an ICU, and the partnership with Mercy was designed to fill that gap.

The VA investigation needs to be forthcoming soon.

All county residents need to be assured the communication is clear between the two hospitals and the necessary facilities are available.

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The News-Review Updated Aug 25, 2013 12:24AM Published Aug 25, 2013 12:28AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.