Veteran Collapses In VA Hospital, Doesn’t Get Necessary Help Until It’s Too Late

| by Jared Keever

A 71-year-old veteran died waiting for an ambulance in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital cafeteria in Albuquerque, N.M. He collapsed just 500 yards from the emergency room entrance, officials said Thursday.

KOAT reports the man collapsed at 12:19 p.m. and paramedics did not get to him for 20 minutes. 

Kirtland Air Force Medical Group personnel performed CPR on the veteran until help arrived, VA spokeswoman Sonja Brown told The Associated Press

Brown said it is the hospital’s local policy to have an ambulance transport a patient in such a case, even though the emergency room is a five-minute walk from where the man fell. She said that policy was under “expedited review.”

Lorenzo Calbert, 65, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War said it was upsetting to see a man die so close to where help was available.

"There's no reason for it," he said. "They have so many workers. They could have put him on the gurney and run faster than that ambulance.”

Paul Bronston, an emergency-room physician and chair of Ethics and Professional Policy Committee of the American College of Medical Quality, said the practice of hospital staff calling 911 for an ambulance may sound ridiculous, but it is standard policy at many hospitals. He pointed out that an ambulance would typically arrive more quickly and that unforeseen factors can slow workers trying to rush a patient to care on foot. 

"The question I would have (is) ... was there an AED (automated external defibrillator) on site as required?" he said, adding that 90 percent of people who collapse do so because of heart problems and a AED could help those people. 

Although some witnesses said it appeared as though the man was having a heart attack, that has not been confirmed. It was not known if an AED was nearby. 

The death comes as the Department of Veterans Affairs remains under fire for reports of veterans languishing on months-long waiting lists — some dying before they receive care.

Last week, a review of the department cited “significant and chronic system failures” within the agency. The report from Deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors said the health administration arm of the VA, that serves about 8.8 million veterans a year, should be fundamentally restructured.

Marc Landy, a political science professor at Boston College, agreed that the VA bureaucracy should be overhauled but he warned against judging the agency too harshly on the recent death in Albuquerque, adding that it appeared to be an unusual case.

"I think we have to be careful," he said. "Let's not beat up too much on the VA while they are already facing criticism.”

The family of the man who died has asked that his name not be released. They are considering litigation against the hospital.

Sources: KOAT, The Associated Press