PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 76-year-old man who died Christmas Day from hypothermia was found in North Portland after he left the VA hospital, authorities confirmed.
Henry Steele, 76, was reported missing by his family late Thursday night, according to Portland police.
Steele reportedly got on a bus around 11 a.m. after leaving the Veterans Affairs Hospital. He was found deceased outside near North Columbia Boulevard on Christmas Day.
On Tuesday, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner released a statement confirming Steele died from exposure to freezing temperatures. His identity was not released at the time.
Doctors say hypothermia causes confusion.
“One of the initial effects is actually on our brain cells,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “People can appear intoxicated even if they’re just really, really cold as their body functions slow down. Some of those first signs are actually in how they’re behaving.”
What the VA said
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Veteran who tragically passed away.
Due to privacy laws, we are unable to address or acknowledge any specific Veteran who may have received care from VA Portland Health Care System.
VA Portland Health Care System has policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety and welfare of every Veteran we serve to the best of our ability. This includes assisting Veterans under our care who may request assistance, or who are known or suspected to have cognitive, physical or other challenges that may require assistance. This is to ensure our Veterans are provided safe and reliable transportation when they depart our facilities to reach their destination. VA Portland also provides many travel solutions for Veterans to and from their VA health care facilities in support of VA-sponsored medical appointments. This program offers services at little or no cost to eligible Veterans through the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), VA Veterans Transportation Services, VA shuttle busses, and, for eligible Veterans, reimbursement through Beneficial Travel.“
What TriMet said
TriMet was devastated to learn of Henry Steele’s passing, and our hearts go out to his loved ones. While so much of what happened with Mr. Steele remains unknown, we do know that a LIFT operator dropped him off at the V.A. hospital, but he was gone when the operator returned. The operator was told that Mr. Steele indicated he was taking MAX or a bus home. LIFT personnel did speak with Mr. Steele’s brother who believed he was still at the V.A. The LIFT operator returned to the hospital and was again told that he was no longer there.
LIFT’s mission is to serve people with disabilities or disabling conditions, providing on-demand service for those who are unable to use our fixed route buses and trains. There was no notation in Mr. Steele’s LIFT file that he had cognitive issues or required a caretaker to travel with him.
Again, we’re deeply saddened by Mr. Steele’s tragic death, and our thoughts are with the family.
Stay with KOIN 6 News as this story develops.