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Woman claims assault at Bay Pines

Inquiries are under way in the case of a Navy veteran who says a male patient attacked her and staffers dismissed her complaints.

By PAUL DE LA GARZA
Published May 4, 2004

[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Susan Edwards had checked herself into Bay Pines to be treated for depression.

ST. PETERSBURG - A woman who checked herself into the Bay Pines VA Medical Center for depression last year says she was assaulted by another patient after hospital officials ignored her complaints about his behavior.

Navy veteran Susan Edwards said she was surprised to be admitted into the psychiatric ward, where patients were held behind locked doors.

She said hospital officials dismissed her complaints that a male patient was stalking her before he attacked her.

After the attack, the 39-year-old Seminole woman said, hospital officials refused to call police or send her to the emergency room for treatment.

The criminal division of the Veterans Affairs Inspector General is investigating. After declining to file charges, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has reopened the investigation, largely because of Edwards' persistence.

"She convinced me to," said Mark McGarry, assistant state attorney.

Bay Pines officials declined to comment.

In an interview, and in a VA police complaint, Edwards provided this account:

When she sought treatment for depression Nov. 12, she expected to be admitted to a regular hospital unit but wound up in the psychiatric ward. The ward was under a lockdown.

Edwards, who served during the Persian Gulf War and said she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, said she first encountered her attacker when she checked in. He offered to give her a kiss or get her ice cream, she said.

Later that night, while taking a shower, she had another run-in with him. He was watching her from 10 feet away, and she told him to get out.

"I'm just keeping you company," he told her.

After getting dressed, she went to the nurse's station and told a nurse what had happened. The nurse told her to ignore the patient and called him "a wanderer."

About 15 minutes later, the same man went into her room. "Can I give you a kiss just to make you happy?" she said he told her.

Edwards said she returned to the nurse's station to complain.

After she went to bed, she heard a noise and saw the man masturbating by her roommate's bed. She yelled at him to get out and returned to the nurse's station to file a complaint. Edwards said a nurse told her there was no complaint form and that patients in the psychiatric ward had no rights.

According to the police report, one of the nurses told Edwards that the man was "harmless" and to stop whining.

She returned to her room and started writing a complaint. When she finished, the man was standing by her door, pretending to be carrying a pizza.

"My heart just about jumped out of my chest," she said. "He says, "I've got your pizza lady.' "

As she tried to get around him, Edwards said, he squeezed her right breast hard. He yelled at her that he would not let go until she paid for the pizza, the police report said.

He ripped her T-shirt, and punched her ribs, Edwards said.

"I'm screaming, "Help! Help! Somebody help!' "

Edwards said she pushed the man and rushed to the nurse's station. She said she was hyperventilating and coughing blood.

She said she demanded to go to the emergency room, but the nurses denied her request. They also refused to call the police or her lawyer. She said the nurses told her to calm down.

"The "older' male nurse then stated, "Quit being a crybaby or you will be taken to the quiet room,' " the police report said. "The victim then stated that the "older' male nurse threatened her by saying, "You will be transferred to another facility if you don't stop complaining.' And, "You won't have such pleasantries there as you have here.' "

Edwards said she went back to her room, crying and shaking. She spent the rest of the night at the edge of her bed, watching the door.

She was discharged two days later.

Edwards said she sought treatment for her injuries at the emergency room and filed a report with the VA Police Department.

Edwards said she has been interviewed by an investigator with the criminal arm of the VA Inspector General. She has hired a lawyer and said she wants to tell her story to protect other veterans.

Edwards said she recently met with Dr. Lori Shriner, her psychiatrist at Bay Pines. She said Shriner told her not to go to the newspaper, that nobody would believe her.

The doctor told her one of the nurses she had complained to said her injuries could have been self-inflicted. Another nurse accused Edwards of conspiring with another patient to back her story.

Bay Pines said Shriner was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

In the past, Edwards said she has had good experiences at Bay Pines. Now, she said, "I've come to the conclusion that they just don't care."

[Last modified May 3, 2004, 22:42:04]


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