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Dartmouth-Hitchcock nurse tells of the terror of ICU shooting

New Hampshire Sunday News

September 17. 2017 1:07AM
Travis Frink, 48, of Warwick, R.I., stands with public defender Rebecca McKinnon during his arraignment Wednesday in Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his 70-year-old mother, Pamela Ferriere. (Jennifer Hauck/Valley News/Pool photo)

Krissy Moses

Even as the terror of an active shooter hung over the room, the staff in the ICU at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center worked desperately to save a woman's life.

A young nurse's post on social media describes the scene in heartbreaking detail: "We're all working together, fast, flowing, like a dance. It's loud & quiet at the same time as you're zeroed in on your task. But in the back of your mind, she was shot, in our unit. Where's the shooter?"

Authorities say Pamela Ferriere, 70, was shot four times at close range in her bed at the Lebanon hospital last Tuesday afternoon. Her 48-year-old son, Travis Frink of Warwick, R.I., who had signed in as a visitor, is charged with her murder.

Krissy Moses was working as an ICU nurse that day at DHMC. In an online post, she describes responding to a "code blue," like so many times before, "but arriving to an empty & quiet unit, normally bustling with people & activity."

"As I get closer, I hear the shouting, 'He shot her! She was shot! There's a shooter! There's a shooter!

"(What? Is this real? Is this a drill? Where's the shooter? Am I supposed to hide?) ... Quick assessment - patient with bullet wounds, zoll pads on, chest compressions underway, RT providing breaths, a nurse pushing epi ... (Where is everyone else? Where's the team? Where's the shooter?)"

Dawn Fernald is director of marketing and public relations at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. She had been in that job about six months when a Dover man, Mark Lavoie, walked into the critical care unit (CCU) early on the morning of Dec. 30, 2014, fatally shot his wife and then shot himself.

In a posting on social media shortly before that shooting, Lavoie called his action a "double suicide" and said his wife had battled the "demons" of mental illness since childhood. He referred to his "selfishness in dialing 911" and said he was "more than happy to sacrifice my life to fix my doing and join her spirit in a happier place."

Fernald recalls that the hardest thing in the immediate aftermath of that incident "was the emotional burden on the staff who witnessed what happened and really having to then care for other patients."

"We're a response team," Fernald said. "If you're in front of a trauma that happens ... you want to save the lives of the people in front of you. When you can't save their lives, it's a difficult thing to go through."

"We did everything we could, but we couldn't save her. (No, no, no, no!)" Moses wrote. "We all look at each other, knowing, understanding. We hug, we cry, we take a deep breath & pull it together to turn our care back towards the other patients on the unit. You are all my heroes."

After the 2014 shooting, Fernald said, Wentworth-Douglass brought in counselors to help the staff cope with the trauma. And she said for some at the Dover hospital, what happened at Dartmouth-Hitchcock last week brought back "old emotions, old thoughts."

She said staff members from her hospital have reached out to their counterparts at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to offer support and assistance. "We understand what they are going through," she said. "And our thoughts absolutely are with the family who's dealing with that and also with all of the staff."

"Seconds feel like minutes, minutes feel like hours. Finally people start flooding in. More nurses, doctors arrive. My people. MY PEOPLE. Colleagues I respect & like, become my favorites, my heroes. Because they're here, we're together."

Steve Ahnen became president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association in 2008 after 16 years at the American Hospital Association in Washington, D.C. Since 9/11, he said, hospitals have been preparing for many types of events, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, and the kind of violence that happened in Lebanon last week.

New Hampshire hospitals have trained together on lessons learned from incidents such as the 2014 shooting in Dover, Ahnen said. "Every issue, every incident that we have helps us to manage the next one even better," he said.

After the 2014 tragedy, Fernald said, Wentworth-Douglass did a full audit of the hospital's security measures and procedures. They've added a few additional security staff members and done some extra training. And the "no weapons" signs are posted more prominently at the facility, she said.

But while some units, including the CCU, birthing center and emergency room clinical areas, are locked, the hospital entrances are open to the public, she said. "We are a community hospital," she said. "We want people to feel welcome in our facility."

Ahnen said hospitals have to be open and ready to serve patients 24/7. "We're going to have to continue to make sure we find ways to make our hospitals the places of healing and help and hope that we want them to be," he said.

But he said medical centers face different challenges than even 10 or 15 years ago. "Hospitals are fundamentally community institutions," he said. "What we're seeing in society, ... we see that come through the emergency room door."

"Whether it's alcohol or mental health or substance misuse, or other kinds of challenges, those find their way to that blue and white H, that beacon of hope in the community," Ahnen said. "That's what they've been and that's what they will continue to be."

Fernald said something else came out of the 2014 tragedy at the Dover hospital. "I would say that incident brought our team here closer," she said. "We are definitely a family here. If you were here for that tragedy, it definitely brought those people together."

An avid runner, Krissy Moses was part of this weekend's Reach the Beach, a 200-mile relay race from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach and couldn't be reached for this story.

The race, she wrote, is "a step toward healing."

"Doing something I love, with my community, through our beautiful home state. I'm so thankful ... to be here ... Here we go!"

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