VA Secretary addresses death at ABQ hospital

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The head of Veterans Affairs was in Albuquerque Thursday, at a time when people are asking tough questions about VA waiting lists and a recent death at the local VA hospital.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the death of that veteran, who was just yards away from the emergency room when he collapsed, may spark changes on the national level.

The death of Jim Garcia, 71, was the first thing the Acting Secretary talked about Thursday, as both a tragedy and something the VA needs to learn from.

“He’s bleeding actively out of his mouth and nose,” said the 911 caller on the afternoon of June 30th. The 911 call from within the cafeteria at the Albuquerque VA hospital two weeks ago reveals frustration as staffers try and help Garcia, who collapsed.

“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,” the caller told dispatch.

Staff waited for an ambulance, though the VA emergency room is about four blocks away on campus. Garcia didn’t make it.

“I know it’s counterintuitive, it was to me that we called an ambulance when someone’s stricken on a medical campus, but there are very good reasons why,” Gibson said Thursday.

Gibson called the Vietnam veteran’s death a tragedy.

“We’re going to step back from this and take a fundamental look at how we position ourselves to respond to these kind of emergencies in the future,” said Gibson.

Even so, Gibson added, trained medical staff on scene did everything they could to try and save Garcia.

One 911 caller told the dispatcher they had nurses on scene administering CPR. Trained staff on scene even used a defibrillator to try and resuscitate Garcia.

Gibson pointed out when the ambulance arrived, emergency responders continued those efforts.

“Even the EMS teams don’t move a victim that needs to be resuscitated from the location to the vehicle, until they’ve tried to resuscitate,” Gibson explained.

Secretary Gibson said the VA is looking at improving its policy for situations like this, along with focusing on cutting down VA wait times, fixing scheduling issues and rebuilding trust with veterans and the public.

“I don’t expect anybody to give it back, I expect we’re going to have to earn it back,” Gibson said. “And that won’t happen quickly.”

Thursday morning, Secretary Gibson met with the 10 people who tried to save Garcia, and presented them with a challenge coin, in honor of what they did.

Among possible policy changes in VA buildings, the Secretary said they’re looking at adding crash carts which carry medicine found in ambulances. He said that would need to be regulated, since there are controlled substances involved.

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