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A man who suffered a heart attack was located in a building that was only about 200 feet from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, but when the ambulance came, paramedics were not sure where to take him since the man was not a veteran. They called the hospital and asked if he could be treated there, but hospital staff told the paramedics to take him to St. Petersburg General Hospital which is 3 miles away. Mark A. Surette ended up dying.

Pinellas County’s medical director said that she has opened an investigation into the matter. Surette should have been taken to the nearest hospital to be treated. A spokesperson of Veterans Affairs said that the medical center often treats patients who are seriously ill and are not veterans. He said the hospital has no policy against treating non-veterans and he will be reviewing the VA’s procedures due to the incident.

“There’s no way to know if that extra time made a difference,” said Dr. Laurie Romig, the medical director who has oversight of county paramedics. Surette was in full cardiac arrest when VA medical personnel arrived on the scene to provide treatment. It is unclear as to when exactly Surette was pronounced dead; neither Romig or the VA could say, and St. Petersburg General Hospital did not comment on the matter.

By law, hospitals are not allowed to turn away acutely ill patients from their emergency rooms, a spokeswoman for St. Petersburg General Hospital said. But officials were not sure that applied to a VA facility.

Pickens, the VA spokesman, said Bay Pines officials listened to a recording of the call provided to the agency by the St. Petersburg Times. “While VA doctors and nurses were first responders, and appropriate emergency treatment was provided at the scene, our review concluded that communications regarding care for non-veteran emergency patients can be improved,” Pickens said in a statement.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Wrongful Death.

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