Reopening an intensive care unit at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center would not be in the best interest of patients, Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain said Thursday.
The hospital closed its ICU in 2009 and has since resisted calls by federal lawmakers and a veterans’ group to reinstate it. Bogedain, in a wide-ranging interview with The News-Review editorial board, said the hospital saw too few critically ill patients to keep its ICU staff sharp.
“The bottom line is when we had an ICU here our average daily census was 1½ patients,” Bogedain said. “There’s a lot of things people want, but you have to look at it from a patient safety standpoint.”
The issue came up again recently with the June 25 death of retired Army Sgt. Ray Velez, 61, of Junction City. Velez fell ill following a hernia operation at the VA and died of cardiac arrest in an ambulance en route to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.
Some members of the Douglas County Veterans Forum argued Velez’ death illustrated the need for the hospital to expand its abilities to treat veterans with life-threatening emergencies.
Forum Secretary Rick Sciapiti said today veterans will continue pushing for a full-service hospital, including an ICU.
“The veterans want to have their medical care at the VA hospital. We’ve heard that over and over again,” Sciapiti said. “Vietnam veterans in particular have major health issues, and I think it’s just derelict that they don’t provide the full service available for veterans whatever the cost.”
Since Velez’ death, the Roseburg VA has stopped performing surgeries that require an overnight stay, like the one Velez underwent.
Bogedain said she is still waiting for a report about the death from a VA medical inspector.
She reiterated that the Roseburg VA staff followed proper procedure by first contacting Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg before sending Velez to Springfield. A Mercy spokeswoman later said the cross-town hospital would have been able to take Velez.
Bogedain said she has talked with Mercy CEO Kelly Morgan about what transpired June 25, but hasn’t concluded whether there was miscommunication between the hospitals.
Bogedain, who has worked for the VA for almost 38 years, defended the system’s record. The Roseburg VA Health Care System, which also operates outpatient clinics at North Bend, Brookings, Crescent City and Eugene, does a good job for the 26,000 veterans it serves, she said.
“I think every health care model has its challenges, but we provide a lot of care to a lot of people, and we provide good care, high-quality care. I’m very proud to work for the VA,” said Bogedain, 61. “I wouldn’t have stayed for 38 years if I wasn’t.”
She declined to comment on details of an ongoing investigation of Roseburg VA social worker Jamie Carlson, who has been banned from seeing patients for more than a year. The investigation purportedly concerns whether Carlson had an intimate relationship with a veteran who attended some post-traumatic stress disorder support groups. Carlson denies the charges.
She has continued to collect her $65,000 salary.
Bogedain said the VA is following its procedures in Carlson’s case.
“Everybody has due process in the federal government. We’re following the procedures, and I can’t rush it,” she said.
Bogedain said the mental health department continues to serve patients despite Carlson’s absence from patient care.
While its ICU may never return, the VA continues to expand other services. A larger dental clinic is expected to be completed in December, and a unit for dementia patients is being built. Construction will begin next year on a building for patients with acute mental illnesses.
The Eagle Landing housing complex has 44 applications so far from veterans for its 54 units scheduled to open in November. Eagle Landing is not part of the VA hospital, but is on the campus and received $1 million from the Roseburg VA.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.