Opinion: New Hampshire Hospital is a gem

This image from video shows New Hampshire Hospital, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Concord.

This image from video shows New Hampshire Hospital, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Concord. WMUR via AP


Published: 11-29-2023 7:00 AM

Alexander de Nesnera, M.D. is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. He worked at New Hampshire Hospital for 30 years, ending his career there as chief medical officer.

I heard the sirens first. Then I saw the flashing lights — a bright sea of blue and red around the building. On my way home, I heard the news: a shooter in the hospital. So many emotions flooded me; anger, grief, sadness, worry for patients, staff and colleagues I have known for so many years. Finally, news of two lives lost, one being Bradley Haas. Everyone knew Bradley, a wonderful man who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Our nation has undergone multiple historic national tragedies. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated, when the Twin Towers collapsed. These are burned into our memory, and become part of us. Unfortunately, our nation is coping with increasing numbers of historic local tragedies (think Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and most recently Lewiston), challenging communities to come together and persevere through very difficult times.

On Friday afternoon, November 17, a historic local tragedy came to our door.

Concord has a gem in its midst, and its name is New Hampshire Hospital. And, this gem has not been tarnished by this recent event.

I spent my whole professional life at New Hampshire Hospital, starting as a very green psychiatrist in 1990 fresh out of training, staying until I retired in 2020. I worked and learned with wonderfully skilled and proficient staff, and continue to do so on an intermittent basis now. Thirty years in one setting gives you a pretty good idea of the quality of care and culture that exists there.

I know the kind of person who accepts a job at New Hampshire Hospital and decides to stay.

Caring. Compassionate. Intelligent. Perceptive. Kind. Tough. Humorous. Passionate and resolved to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens suffering from severe and persistent mental illness, the ones nobody else can effectively treat and understand. New Hampshire Hospital staff always have deep strengths and strong convictions when working with our severely mentally ill citizens. They are the heart and soul of the hospital.

Now the challenge of dealing with this historic local tragedy is here. Concord was stellar in addressing so many aspects of the initial encounter — what a tribute to our community. How fortunate we are to be here. Yet, the healing must begin, the grieving addressed, and the trauma acknowledged.

But, at the same time, there is an opportunity to take control of our destiny. My hope is that the Concord community and the outstanding New Hampshire Hospital staff will look at any chances that come to pass to find ways of improving their emotional security and well-being. By slowly regaining control of our environment, we will gain a greater sense of stability and strength. While grieving, we need to find the power to change the trajectory of this historic local tragedy, in so doing effectively changing history to make it more our own. I am absolutely certain this can be done. Let the gem shine in all its glory!