TOPICS > Health

Extended Interview: VA Hospital Administrator Sandy Garfunkel

April 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


SUSAN DENTZER: Jay Briseno is an extremely disabled young man. How typical is he, at this point, of the population that the VA is having to care for?

DR. SANDY GARFUNKEL: For this hospital he’s, he’s not typical at all. He is probably our most severely injured veteran. We, we’re not a spinal cord injury center, so we generally don’t treat spinal cord injury patients, and as you know he’s, he is paralyzed from the neck down and has very severe injury, so I would say, by far, he is, he is the most severely injured patient that we deal with.

SUSAN DENTZER: And his parents have made the decision to have him cared for by them largely in the community with a lot of support by the VA.


SUSAN DENTZER: How typical is that?

DR. SANDY GARFUNKEL: Well, the family has really made the decision. The family has made what is an unusual decision, really, to sacrifice a good deal of their personal lives to, to care for Jay at home and they spend literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week caring for their son.

We, we provide nursing. We, we hire an agency who provides nursing care to Jay. Our physicians take care a Jay. Sometimes they go out to the, to the home. By the time Jay comes in for some special care our, our pulmonary physicians take care of his breathing issues, our therapists, our respiratory therapists make sure that he, he can breathe clearly.

Our physical therapists give him some physical therapy. Our lab people do lab tests on him. The equipment that he has, the bed that he’s in, the breathing equipment that he has is all provided by this medical center.

So we actually provide, working with the family, total care for, for Jay.

SUSAN DENTZER: And again, that’s unusual, for the combination of the family having a child who needed such intensive care.

DR. SANDY GARFUNKEL: Right. It’s very unusual. If somebody who did need that kind of care, generally would be in a hospital setting, in Jay’s case he would be in our intensive care unit for an extended period of time, obviously, and be receiving that level of care, but totally through VA staff.

In this case, his family provides 24 hours a day, provide loving care to Jay and fully participates in the car that he receives.

SUSAN DENTZER: Now all of this costs a lot of money, so let’s talk about that. What has the VA expended on his care?

DR. SANDY GARFUNKEL: I can’t tell you exactly what we’ve expended but, but the–I would estimate that if we go through a whole year, considering everything that we do, it approaches a half a million dollars a year, and that, by the way, is probably what it would cost if Jay was in the medical center in our intensive care unit.

But this is, this is a veteran, our job is to take care of veterans, and we don’t–we–obviously, we’re cost conscious of what we do but we, we do what’s necessary to keep our veterans alive and to hopefully nurse ‘em back to health

The Brisenos want to see that Jay gets everything that, that he can get, and, and that’s what we want to see as well, and one reason I think we have such a good relationship with the family is that they know that we’re going to do everything we can for Jay and, and they want everything for Jay. So we’re on the same wavelength.