We had some big snowstorms this past winter. Three days saw 6 inches of snow or more — Feb. 18, March 8 and March 14 (a lot more than 6 in the case of the last two, according to weather trackers).
I relay those dates in an attempt to pinpoint the day one of Manchester’s homeless residents, Douglas Bainbridge, left the hospital. According to Mark Donald “River” Ricard, Bainbridge checked himself out of one of the city’s hospitals the day before a big snowstorm. He wanted a beer.
Bainbridge showed up at the homeless camps along the west bank of the Merrimack River wearing a fall jacket, jeans, a pair of boots and cut-off gloves.
He looked pale and sickly, said Ricard, a Manchester resident who said he visits the camps frequently and tries to bring some order to the inherent chaos.
Ricard said Bainbridge told him he had pneumonia.
“He said ‘I’m dying,’ and I said ‘Dougie, we’re all dying. All you gotta do is stop drinking,’” Ricard said. In the meantime, he told Bainbridge to hunker down in a nearby tent that another homeless person had abandoned.
On March 26, Ricard cut open that tent, which had collapsed under the weight of snow. He found Bainbrige curled into a fetal position, his lifeless eyes staring up at him. “They should have never let him out,” said Ricard, who doesn’t hide his disdain for hospitals.
“They’ve got a pill for everything and a cure for nothing,” he said.
Manchester police acknowledge that Bainbridge was found March 26 inside a tent on the banks of the Merrimack River. There was no public announcement about the discovery of his body.
The state medical examiner’s office was called, and the body was taken to the office, police said.
Bainbridge’s cause and manner of death remain uncertain, pending further tests, according to Kim Fallon, the chief forensic investigator for the state.
Ricard said snow was nearly knee deep when he found Bainbridge.
Ricard escorted Union Leader photographer David Lane and me to the site. The remnants of Bainbridge’s last days make up a stew of despair: The collapsed nylon dome tent and blue tarp. A flannel jacket and calf-length boots. An empty package of hand warmers. A deep red suitcase with a Marlboro designer tag. All sorts of food: canned corned beef, a jar of peanut butter, juice bottles, a 2-liter ginger ale, a quart of egg nog. An empty, label-less bottle of spirits.
The site and similar homeless camps are located on a narrow sliver of land bordered by the Merrimack River on one side and the elevated I-293 highway on the other. The highway both dominates the camps and isolates them from most of the city. You can see an Exit 5 sign from the Bainbridge tent.
Of course, homeless people — like all of us — will die. But Bainbridge froze to death in a collapsed tent while thousands of people zoomed by on a highway overhead. Across the river stands a monument to modern medicine — Elliot at River’s Edge.
Elliot Hospital did not respond to several emails and telephone calls seeking input. Catholic Medical Center did; the West Side hospital operates two Health Care for the Homeless clinics in the city. More than 50 homeless people died last year in New Hampshire, said CMC spokesman Lauren Collins-Cline.
“Not everyone who is offered care is ready to receive it and has the right to refuse it. It’s part of what makes this work as heartbreaking as it is rewarding,” she said.
Collins-Cline said that medical privacy laws prevent her from saying whether Bainbrige was a CMC patient or not.
I emailed her a bunch of questions: couldn’t a hospital keep someone from leaving based on mental competency? Why not check an alcoholic into a detox center? What about Ricard’s idea (which I think makes the most sense): Give the guy a beer if that will keep him from stumbling into the fury of a snowstorm.
Collins-Cline said she is reluctant to address hypotheticals; every patient has complicating factors dealing with his or her care.
She said hospitals do everything they can to encourage people to get care. “But patients also have rights and responsibilities, including their decision to refuse or discontinue care (so long as they are competent),” she said.
Fallon, the forensic investigator, said her office gets access to medical records when it comes to death investigations, but it’s questionable whether those will be disclosed once the medical examiner determines the cause of death.
Ricard said Bainbridge, who was 49, grew up in Manchester and attended West High School. He acted OK most of the time, but turned surly when he drank.
His is a familiar story: wife and kids leave, depression, alcoholism, Ricard said.
His death rattled Ricard, who lives nearby and visits the area often. He tries to convince the homeless to keep their camps neat. That appears to be a fruitless task as Lane and I walked along the riverbank with him. Ricard welcomes and even cares for some homeless people in the area; he tells others to scram. He said he’s used a canoe to transport overdose victims to the boat landing across the river.
He hopes to host a memorial service for Bainbridge within a few weeks.
“Alcohol’s the No. 1 killer,” he said, “I don’t care what anyone says.”