A Vietnam War veteran said he was forced to wait nearly five hours before being treated for shortness of breath at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township earlier this month.
John J. O’Donnell, 63, of Tobyhanna, said his experience began June 4 when he had trouble breathing. Unable to drive at night, O’Donnell said his wife, Jean, drove him to the VA. They came to the emergency room at about 9:30 a.m. on June 5.
“I told them I couldn’t get a full breath and was having trouble breathing,” O’Donnell said. “I thought they would give me oxygen but they told me my primary doctor was in and I should go see him.”
O’Donnell said he was moved to another floor expecting to see a doctor. After waiting for one hour without seeing a physician, he said he was returned to the emergency room.
“They told me, ‘I don’t know why they sent you up here, you should be in emergency (room),’” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said while he continued to have trouble breathing, a triage nurse placed a clip on his finger, which was a pulse oximeter that monitors oxygen saturation in the bloodstream.
Normal oxygen saturation is 95 to 100.
O’Donnell, who suffers chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his oxygen saturation level was 75.
Doug Laher, a registered respitaory therapist and associate executive director at the American Association for Respiratory Care based in Irving, Texas, said an oxygen saturation level of 75 is “extraordinarily low” that would require immediate treatment, such as oxygen. Laher said a normal oxygen saturation level for someone suffering from lung disease could be as low as 89 or 90 percent or lower.
Laher did explain false readings can occur due to poor blood circulation, movement of the fingers during testing or fingernail polish.
After being contacted by a reporter, the VA Medical Center issued a written statement: “We sincerely regret any delay the Veteran experienced at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. We have reached out to the Veteran to discuss the issue and ensure he is receiving timely and appropriate care. We will continue to make improvements in access to care. No Veteran should have to wait for the quality health care they have earned and deserve,” stated Jason Cave, acting public affairs director at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center.
Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the county have come under scrutiny with extensive delays and waiting lists to schedule appointments for veterans to see their primary physicians.
A report released on June 9 in the wake of the scandal says the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center scheduled 99 percent of all appointments in under 30 days. The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center serves veterans from 18 counties in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.
O’Donnell said several vials of blood were taken from him while he continued to have trouble breathing. He said he was finally provided oxygen after waiting four-and-a-half hours in the emergency room.
“What I should have did was call 911 and not wait overnight to drive to the VA,” O’Donnell said. “The fact is, why wasn’t I given oxygen when I had trouble breathing and had to wait four-and-a-half hours.”
O’Donnell said Tuesday he underwent testing at the medical center on Monday, and has a follow-up visit with his physician on June 30.