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No answers given for broken neck after Elliot Hospital incident

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 23. 2013 11:16PM

Fern Ornelas 

MANCHESTER — While his younger brother remains in intensive care at a Boston hospital paralyzed from the neck down from broken neck, John Ornelas said none of the local institutions that had his brother, Fern, in their custody or care last week have explained what happened or even bothered to contact his family.

"Nobody has given us any information whatsoever — not Elliot (Hospital), not the police station, not the corrections department," John Ornelas, 55, said Wednesday

"What we want is the truth. That's all I want is the truth. I don't want somebody pulling my friggin' leg all the time," Ornelas added.

In less than three days, Fern Ornelas' life changed completely. The turn of events began the night of Oct. 15 when Ornelas' twin sister, Anna, brought him to Elliot Hospital emergency department for a mental health episode that was triggered by going off his medications. He had been in a minor car collision earlier, but was unhurt.

It was only when his sister went to visit him Oct. 17 that she learned Fern no longer was in the psychiatric evaluation unit, but in intensive care — his face beaten and swollen and his neck broken — as hospital staff readied him for transfer to Massachusetts General Hospital, the elder Ornelas said.

"Think about my sister walking into the place and finding my brother in that condition and nobody ever called to say a word to her?" he said.

At the time, no one told her or other family members Ornelas allegedly attacked a security officer about 7:25 p.m. Oct. 16 and the two exchanged punches in the secure psychiatric unit until the guard subdued Ornelas.

Ornelas was evaluated and treated in the emergency room for "significant" facial wounds before he was released to Manchester police custody, according to police and hospital accounts. He was booked and charged with simple assault at Manchester police headquarters about 11 p.m., then transferred to Hillsborough County House of Corrections about midnight Oct. 17.

About 9:30 a.m. that day, Ornelas returned to Elliot Hospital by ambulance from the county jail, He was in serious condition with a broken neck, his brother said.

In statements issued this week, Elliot said how Ornelas sustained the injuries "is unknown to us."

Manchester police have said nothing "inappropriate" occurred when Ornelas was in booking.

Fern Ornelas remains on a breathing tube at Massachusetts General Hospital where doctors there also have tried to learn when his neck broke because the length of time that elapsed from the time he was injured to when he arrived at the Boston hospital is crucial to determine the extent of damage and a prognosis, John Ornelas said.

"They don't know what happened or when it happened because nobody is saying anything," he added.

The incident has incited an outcry in the community where Fern Ornelas is a friendly, familiar figure to many on the East Side. The 1977 Memorial High School graduate's standout pitching won him a college scholarship. He also golfs regularly at Derryfield Country Club where he is a member. He worked part time as seafood manager at Shaw's Supermarket on South Willow Street until he was laid off when the store closed this summer, friends said.

Hillsborough County House of Corrections Superintendent David M. Dionne refuses to discuss the extent and nature of Ornelas' injuries. Asked Monday and Tuesday to confirm reports that Ornelas was taken out of the jail by ambulance Oct. 17 because he had a broken neck, Dionne repeatedly responded that was "the first I ever heard of that."

Dionne also would not say what so concerned the staff nurse and physician at the jail when they checked on Ornelas about 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Oct. 17 that they ordered Ornelas be returned to Elliot Hospital.

Meanwhile, John Ornelas said he and his sister have to get permission from Hillsborough County House of Corrections to visit their brother in the intensive care unit at MGH in Boston. They were able to visit him Friday and Saturday, but were denied permission on Sunday, Ornelas said. No reason was given, he added.

John Ornelas said MGH staff give the family frequent updates on their brother's condition and were told Wednesday that he was "more alert."

Fern Ornelas is being held without bail and remains under corrections department custody.

Ornelas was being held at Elliot while waiting for a bed to open at the state-run acute psychiatric hospital in Concord.

Elliot Hospital said it has an "excellent relationship" with Boston hospitals and defended security officer Lawrence Bolduc for using proper training tactics to subdue Ornelas and "protect the lives" of other patients and staff in the emergency department.

"It's not like he is a stranger to Elliot Hospital. They are the ones who always treated him," John Ornelas said.

"There might have been one or two incidents where they had to sedate him or put him in restraints. They've dealt with it and nobody got hurt. What's the difference now?" he asked.

"Elliot has a responsibility to take care of its patients, not let them get beat up," he added.

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