CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Two Florida paramedics have been suspended after a man they pronounced dead was found to be breathing. On February 15, Clearwater Fire and Rescue sent two medics to a home in an unincorporated portion of Pinellas County for a reported cardiac arrest.
Medics pronounced the 65-year-old patient dead “shortly after their arrival,” according to a statement from Clearwater Fire and Rescue. They left the area once the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office arrived to investigate the apparent death.
Largo Fire Rescue crews were then called to the home after a deputy discovered the man was still breathing. About 28 minutes elapsed between the initial call and Largo medics’ arrival, Clearwater Fire and Rescue said.
The man was taken to the hospital, where he was still recovering from cardiac arrest as of Saturday. Often confused with heart attacks, cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, like an irregular heartbeat, and a heart attack is a circulation problem, like a blocked artery, according to the American Heart Association. Seconds after a cardiac arrest, a person will become unresponsive and cannot breathe, or is only gasping.
If a cardiac arrest is not treated within minutes, a person will die, the AHA said. “Upon notification of this incident, we immediately removed both fire medics from their normal duties and discontinued their abilities to provide patient care, in conjunction with the county’s medical director,” Clearwater Fire Chief Scott Ehlers said in a statement to NEWS10’s sister station in Florida.
The two medics who initially responded to the call have been placed on administrative duty and are clinically suspended by the Pinellas County EMS Medical Director’s Office. Both the medical director’s office and Clearwater Fire and Rescue are looking into the incident.
“On behalf of the city, I apologize for the actions and the inactions of our crew during this incident,” Chief Ehlers said. “We have strict policies and procedures in place that were not followed, according to our preliminary review. These two did not perform to the standard of care that our citizens expect and deserve.”
Interim Clearwater City Manager Jennifer Poirrier concurred with Chief Ehlers, saying in a written statement, “When this does not occur at the level at which we expect, it is incumbent upon us to determine exactly what happened, why it happened, and then ensure it will never happen again.”
Earlier this month, the New York State Attorney General’s Office began investigating after an 82-year-old woman was found breathing at a funeral home hours after she was pronounced dead at a Long Island nursing center. That case came a month after a continuing care home in Des Moines, Iowa was fined $10,000 after a funeral home discovered a woman sent to it in a body bag was still alive.
In August 2020, a woman with cerebral palsy living in Southfield, Michigan was pronounced dead only to be found alive at a funeral home. Emergency responders were called after the family of 20-year-old Timesha Beauchamp reported that she appeared to be having serious breathing problems. A doctor, who wasn’t at the scene, pronounced Beauchamp deceased after one of the first responders reported by telephone that she had been unresponsive for 30 minutes and showed no signs of life.
Beauchamp was later taken to the hospital after funeral home staff saw her chest moving. She remained hospitalized in critical condition until her death in October 2020. Her family filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against the city of Southfield and the four first responders who attended Beauchamp.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.