Mark Hayward's City Matters: Life isn't what it used to be for ER worker injured in attack involving mentally ill man
Last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan assembled a team of experts and said she wanted them to look at the bottleneck of mentally ill patients in hospital emergency rooms.
Don Wyman can tell you about teams of experts.
Since July, Wyman has seen expert after expert. Surgeons have pinned and plated the bones in his cheekbones, eye sockets, jaw and nose — bones shattered when he was attacked while trying to calm a deranged and unstable patient in the emergency room of the Elliot Hospital last July.
He sees a speech therapist. The hospital worker who used to give workshops on calming psychiatric patients now grasps for words. "I listen to things. I know a lot more answers than I can think of in my head," Wyman explains.
He sees a rehab-neurologist psychiatrist.
The man who used to raft on white water, camp and hike mountains suffered two post-attack strokes and now walks his neighborhood.
And he sees a life coach. The father of four at-home children needs to relearn everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, making change and doing the laundry.
"I'm a different person now than I knew then," Wyman said in the kitchen of the south Manchester house he shares with his wife and their four children.
The attack on Wyman and fellow Elliot Hospital licensed nurse assistant Melissa Clermont is fading from the front pages, in part because of the violent attack involving Fern Ornelas at the same hospital three months later.
Wyman, who is 52, has worked as an LNA for 25 years at the Elliot emergency room. As an LNA, he drew blood, monitored electrocardiograms and sat with patients. His specialty was psychiatric care.
"Don has the perfect calm, cool, collected approach that is so effective with our psychiatric patients," reads a nomination of Wyman as Emergency Department MVP, written by his coworkers shortly before the attack.
After the attack, the Wymans moved from a country New Boston home to a smaller south Manchester house to be closer to doctors and family.
His wife, Amy Wyman, works as a registered nurse at the Elliot psychiatric unit. They have two children together — son Cooper, who is 6, and daughter Delaney, 3. Amy Wyman's 12- and 16-year-old children from a previous marriage live with the family.
Wyman remembers nothing about the attack.
Clermont — his coworker who suffered a slight cheekbone fracture in the attack — remembers it well. Her body tenses up when she speaks about it. She gasps for air and speaks nervously.
"It was the worst day of my life," said Clermont, a single mother of three who has returned to work part-time.
She has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. She avoids crowds, and the event often revisits her.
"People think my face is fine," Clermont said. "They don't know what I see every day."
Amy Wyman said Don can't be left alone with the children, so she's been unable to return to work. She is burning through his vacation time and time donated by Elliot Hospital employees. He is on worker's compensation, which only provides 60 percent of his normal wage.
At home, he has spent hours rearranging the house, moving items from one shelf to another.
Still, Wyman recovered from his strokes faster and better than doctors initially expected, said his mother, Donna Carey. He is getting shoulder surgery and special glasses to correct his double vision.
"It's slow and he's frustrated by it, but I can see progress," said Carey, a retired health care worker.
Always a worker, Wyman talks about one day returning to work. But he realizes he has changed and probably can't do the same job. He still wants to be trained and tested for the job, he said.
As a psychiatric nurse, Amy Wyman said she saw the cutbacks that preceded the crowded emergency rooms: Units closed at Catholic Medical Center, Portsmouth Pavilion and Androscoggin Valley Hospital in the 2000s. Elliot Hospital's Pathway program went from 19 to 12 beds, and the New Hampshire Hospital lost 60 beds under former Gov. John Lynch.
Under pressure from a federal government lawsuit and mental health advocates, the Legislature and Hassan this year devoted $24.67 million to new or expanded programs.
About half those initiatives have started, according to an update from state health officials. Five of 10 beds have opened at Franklin Hospital; Harbor Homes has received $720,000 to help keep mentally ill people in apartments and off the streets; community treatment teams have been approved for Lebanon, Laconia, Portsmouth and Dover, and seven existing teams will now work seven days a week.
It will take another seven months before other initiatives get off the ground.
At this point, however, no one is adding beds at the New Hampshire Hospital, something Mayor Ted Gatsas, Manchester hospital presidents and hospital workers called for in August, after the attack on Wyman and Clermont.
The state's strategy continues to emphasize prevention — community treatment teams and supportive housing — over New Hampshire Hospital beds.
It's easy to understand the strategy in concept. But that means people like Wyman's alleged assailant, Ansel Kinglocke, will end up — violent and in crisis — at emergency rooms until the new system gets up and running.
It's like a city closing most of its fire stations during the dry season to concentrate on fire codes and fire prevention campaigns.
"They need the hospital beds," Carey said. The community-based system is based upon everyone staying on their medication, but what if they don't? she asked.
"How are you going to monitor them?" she said. "I just see a lot of people out of control. The whole system is morally wrong and something needs to be done."
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.