HAMPSTEAD – A Faith Drive resident recently contacted Hampstead Police after an incident involving patients from the private psychiatric facility Hampstead Hospital occurred in front of her house. And while police say the hospital does not generate many police calls, the resident wants the townspeople to be aware of potential dangers.
Hampstead Hospital, located in a residential area on East Road, is a 111-bed private specialty hospital serving psychiatric and chemical dependency patients throughout the New England area. It is located on 100 acres, and serves both adults and children.
Hampstead Police say their officers are called to the hospital on average of 10 times a year.
Jennifer Coppola contacted the police and sent a lengthy email to Chief Joe Beaudoin after a June 19 incident that took place in her front yard.
“I stopped in (at the police station) to find out if what I overheard during the apprehension of three individuals in front of my home the previous night was correct,” she wrote. “And they did confirm that I did hear right, that those people were patients of Hampstead Hospital. It started to wear on me that this happened right on our quiet, family filled street, in front of my home, where my children play. After looking into the Hospital’s website and seeing what kind of disorders and behavioral problems and drug additions they try to treat, my concern was much greater.”
Coppola’s home is not in the immediate vicinity of the Hampstead Hospital.
She said she would expect Hampstead Hospital to have its own security for not only the safety of patients, but to ensure the safety of the surrounding community. “And that the taxpayers are not having (to pay for) chasing after their patients due to their own failure to keep those patients on the Hospital grounds,” she wrote to the chief.
“Further, I know that the taxpayers have to pay for the damage that these patients do to the police vehicles,” she continued. “I saw the patients fight the officers, which scared me that someone would have so much diminished reasoning that they would attack an officer. I also witnessed the female rip off a part of the police car….and we, the Hampstead taxpayers, have to pay for those damages when it is the Hospital who is at fault. Now I’m fearful that my kids are going to have a run in with a hospital escapee.”
According to Hampstead Police Lt. John Frazier, who has been on the force since 1992, his department is called to the hospital for domestic disputes in the parking lot, to assist Emergency Service calls, and sometimes for patient issues.
“In my experience this is the first time we’ve had two juvenile runaway calls in succession,” he said of the recent incidents. “I researched the files for the last 12 months and we have responded to the hospital 15 times over that period. These two juvenile runaways happened on June 19 and July 9. We have received concerns from a resident with regard to these incidents but the data simply does not support that concern.”
However, he added, “she has a legitimate concern because the possibility always does exist that something really bad could happen. But in my 20-plus years here, there has never been a break-in, a stolen car or an assault of a resident in their yard connected with Hampstead Hospital runaways or in the case of adults, walk-aways.”
Frazier said two females and one male were involved in the June 19 incident; the girls were 13 and the boy was 15. He confirmed that they were apprehended on Faith Drive and that they fought the officers because they did not want to return to the hospital. He indicated minimal damage occurred to the cruiser.
The July 9 incident included one of the same females, who is now 14, and three other females, ages 13, 16 and 17. The foursome reached a mini-mall on Route 111 in Salem, where Hampstead and Salem police caught up with them. Frazier said they again resisted apprehension and during the struggle, one of the Salem officers was bitten.
Frazier said he and the police chief met with Hampstead Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr. Philip Kubiak and Clinical Operations Director Dr. Patti Shea and discussed cooperative efforts to be used in future incidents.
“Whether they haven’t communicated their policy well to all employees or whether there simply wasn’t sufficient manpower is unclear, but they told us their employees are supposed to follow runaways at a discreet distance and keep police informed as to their whereabouts,” Frazier said. “The hospital policy is clear that beyond the borders of the hospital property, employees cannot apprehend or interfere with runaways or walkaways (the term used for adult patients who leave the premises). They agreed to work with us to streamline the process and said always, if there is a supervisor available, they are to follow runaways and alert and inform police.”
Dr. Shea confirmed the two runaway incidents and the hospital policy. “We work cooperatively with the Hampstead Police Department at all times,” she said. Frazier said none of the patients involved in the runaway incidents were from the immediate area. While some were from New Hampshire, others were from Maine and Massachusetts.
“When a juvenile is involved, by law we have to act to apprehend and return them to the hospital,” Frazier said. “In the case of adult walkaways, unless it is a court ordered admission to the facility, they usually get to a phone and have someone pick them up and we don’t get involved at all.”
Coppola met with Beaudoin to further discuss this issue and said people should be made aware of the situation.
“I don’t believe the residents have a real understanding of what danger this poses them,” Coppola said. “I cannot sit by and allow this to go unnoticed. It only takes one patient, one time, to attack someone in these areas. One time is too many.”
Frazier said while the data doesn’t support her concern about the dangerousness of the Hampstead Hospital incidents, he agreed that it is always possible something worse could happen. But he said while it is something to be aware of, it doesn’t present an imminent danger.