Roseburg VA hospital suspends some surgeries

ROSEBURG, Ore. — The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center has suspended surgeries that require overnight stays pending an investigation into the death of a veteran following an operation.

Retired Army Sgt. Ray Velez of Junction City died June 25 after going into cardiac arrest in an ambulance on the way to a Springfield hospital. The 61-year-old became ill after a hernia operation and was being driven to a hospital an hour away because the intensive-care unit at Roseburg’s Mercy Medical Center was full.

The Roseburg VA closed its intensive-care unit four years ago and the death has raised questions about whether the hospital is equipped to handle life-threatening emergencies.

Dan Ritchie, executive assistant to Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain, said the medical center will continue to perform “ambulatory surgeries,” in which patients go home the same day. Other surgeries were suspended Aug. 14. Ritchie said the VA will help veterans schedule surgeries at VA hospitals in Portland or Seattle or at non-VA hospitals.

He said the suspension of more complicated surgeries in Roseburg is temporary. He would not speculate on how long the investigation will take.

“It could be a month. It could be years. I don’t have a handle on that because it’s so specific there’s not a standard,” Ritchie said.

The Roseburg News-Review reported (http://is.gd/B3wetB ) that Bogedain told members of the Douglas County Veterans Forum on Tuesday that if there is any change in the VA’s services they will be “the first ones to know.”

“There’s not a lot of secrets in this world, especially in the VA,” Bogedain to the group at the local American Legion Hall.

Forum president Jim Little said it is unknown if an intensive-care unit would have saved Velez’s life, but the group will push for its restoration, as it had been doing before the death.

“The veterans here, naturally, we want the best health care we can get,” he said. “We still say `ICU, ICU.’ We’re like a broken record.”

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