Update: Bay Pines VA turns away heart attack patient

6:06 PM, Jul 28, 2007   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will launch an independent investigation after a V-A emergency room refused to treat a non-veteran who suffered a heart attack 200 feet from its entrance.

Fifty-one year-old Mark Surette had a heart attack near the Bay Pines V-A Medical Center last month. The emergency room refused to treat the longtime V-A employee, directing him instead to

hospital three miles away where he was pronounced dead.

Bay Pines always directs paramedics to take critically ill non-veterans to other hospitals -- even when its emergency room is the closest.

But the Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement saying Bay Pines is supposed to treat people who fall ill on their grounds.

A spokesman for Bay Pines said emergency room staff thought Surette had collapsed off hospital property.

The Pinellas County medical director has also launched a local investigation.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

7-27-07

St. Petersburg, Florida - Kimie Stotts came home from vacation and found out her neighbor across the street had died of a heart attack. But now Stotts is upset to hear about the circumstances of Mark Surette's death the morning of June 26th.

Kimie Stotts, Neighbor: :
““I don't think it's right, though. I think they should do something right there, to me if it's a heart attack.””

Surette, who worked at Bay Pines VA Medical Center for 17 years, suffered a heart attack in Building 24. The VA's emergency room was only a few hundred feet away, but Sunstar paramedics weren't sure they could bring Surette there since he wasn't a vet.

So EMS medical control radioed Bay Pines Emergency Room.

EMS Medical Control: :: :: :
““The patient is not a vet. You are the closest ER. Would you guys be willing to take that patient or do you want him to go to St. Pete General?””
Bay Pines: :
““Hold on, man””

Bay Pines radioed back with an answer about 30 second later.

Bay Pines: :
““I think our ER officials are sending him to St. Pete Gen.””
EMS
““Take him to St. Pete Gen?””
Bay Pines: :
““Yup.””
EMS
““Copy.””

So paramedics took Surette to St. Petersburg General Hospital, three miles away. He died from the heart attack.

Now Pinellas County EMS Medical Director Laurie Romig is looking into why paramedics questioned whether they could bring a heart attack patient to the VA's emergency room.

Dr. Laurie Romig, Pinellas Co. EMS Medical Director: :
““Certainly if I had been on the radio at that time involved in the call, I would have said go to the VA they will take him. You don't even have to ask.””

Dr. George Van Buskirk, Bay Pines' Chief of Staff says from the radio call, the emergency room did not understand they were dealing with an acute situation. He's working to make sure it's corrected.

Dr. George Van Buskirk, Bay Pines VA Medical Center Chief of Staff: :
““Such a situation will and should not ever happen again.””

Van Buskirk says Bay Pines has treated 24 patients in their emergency room this year who were not veterans. The Chief of Staff says they’ve had a long-standing policy to treat non-veterans in emergency cases.

Surrette leaves behind two daughters who live out of state.

Tampa Bay's 10 News, Dave Balut

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