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VA secretary: Albuquerque staff acted properly in vet's death

Jul. 17, 2014 - 08:05PM   |  
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson talks to reporters July 17 at the Albuquerque, N.M., VA hospital.
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson talks to reporters July 17 at the Albuquerque, N.M., VA hospital. (Roberto E. Rosales / AP)
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Thursday that staffers at Albuquerque’s VA hospital responded properly when a veteran died after collapsing in the medical center’s cafeteria.

Hospital staff faced scrutiny after the death of 71-year-old Jim Napoleon Garcia, who received CPR on the floor while an ambulance was called to take him to an emergency room 500 yards away.

Gibson, speaking to reporters shortly after meeting with staff at Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center, said an initial review found staffers followed procedure in providing help to the Vietnam War veteran.

“I thanked every single one of them individually,” Gibson said. “As I heard what they did, and I stood and looked at them in the eye, I was very proud.”

Hospital emergency experts have said it’s standard for medical centers to require staffers to call 911, even when patients are near an emergency room. VA officials say such policy is in place at its hospitals across the country.

Emergency response records show that an ambulance arrived to help Garcia about 10 minutes after the 911 call.

Officials said VA staff along with Kirtland Air Force Base personnel immediately responded in providing basic life support to Garcia.

Gibson said it would have been difficult to keep Garcia on an automated external defibrillator or perform CPR if he was placed on a gurney and rush to the emergency room on foot.

A woman who called 911 said a table of doctors did nothing after Garcia’s collapse, records show. But Gibson said it’s too soon to know who was in the cafeteria at the time.

He also said his department is reviewing the case to see whether systemwide changes are needed. Potential revisions could include requiring “crash carts” of medication in key areas around VA campuses.

The procedural review comes as the VA deals with a national outcry over reports of long delays for treatment and medical appointments and of veterans dying while on waiting lists.

A review of Albuquerque’s Veterans Affairs hospital released Thursday shows there were 353 veterans on the electronic waiting list, down from more than 1,040 a month ago. The list includes new patients for whom appointments cannot be scheduled within 90 days.

Gibson said the department is working with an outside contractor to audit wait times. “We are in the final stages of negotiating a contract for a rigorous site-by-site audit, independent audit, of scheduling practices” across the Veterans Health Administration, he said.

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