Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson ordered a "rigorous" investigation into how a hospital in New Mexico handled the collapse and death of a veteran in its cafeteria. What Gibson concluded is that the VA followed the appropriate procedures.
Jim Garcia, a 71-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, had a heart attack in the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center's cafeteria on June 30. He lay on the floor while 911 calls were made for an ambulance to take him to an emergency room that was 500 yards away.
A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria 500 yards from the emergency room, died Monday, June 30, 2014, after waiting for an ambulance. Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five minute walk, but later reports said it took 11 minutes for paramedics to reach the man who died after 20 minutes of resuscitation efforts. (AP/Russell Contreras)
Bystanders, some of whom were part of an Air Force medical group, gave Garcia CPR and paramedics arrived 11 minutes later.
Garcia's death renewed outrage against the VA from those who say vets around the country face long wait times and die waiting to see a doctor.
"We called our rapid response here at the hospital but unfortunately they won't respond to him because he's out of the main medical building," one caller to 911 said of Garcia's situation last month.
"Paramedics are already on their way out there," the dispatcher told her.
"There's a table of doctors sitting right next to him and none of them are doing s**t," the woman said.
“The fundamental question I ask myself is, 'Did we do everything we reasonably could do in difficult circumstances to save this veteran’s life?'” Gibson said Thursday, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
After reviewing what went on, Gibson said that it might seem "counterintuitive" to call an ambulance to help someone already on a medical campus, but he noted there are "very good reasons" in place why this happens.
The Journal has more the procedure:
A 4-year-old local VA policy establishes certain areas of the 100-acre VA campus in Southeast Albuquerque in which a VA “Code Blue Team” is to respond to emergencies.
The cafeteria lies about 500 yards from the medical center, where there is an emergency room, but the cafeteria isn’t included in the response area.
Locations outside the designated code blue areas are to be served by Albuquerque paramedics.
Gibson's statement about the situation echoes what VA spokeswoman Sonja Brown said about the procedure last week after 911 calls were released.
"Regardless of who was sitting at nearby tables, VA staff along with Kirtland AFB personnel immediately responded in providing basic life support to this veteran. The staff were heroic in their attempts to save the life of this veteran," Brown said.
Dr. Tom Lynch, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, said Thursday alongside Gibson in New Mexico that the VA plans to learn from this experience and see what they can do to "deliver better care to veterans in the future," the Journal reported.
In addition to improving policies that could save lives, Gibson said that the VA, in this situation, could have done more to be transparent.
“I think we have sort of a reflex action that when something bad happens we sort of close up," he said.
Watch KOAT-TV's report about the acting secretary's comments Thursday:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.