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In the Wake of Violence: A Message from Rev. Frank Mächt

In the Wake of Violence: A Message from Rev. Frank Mächt

As director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s (D-H’s) Chaplaincy Program, Rev. Frank Mächt has been spending time, providing comfort and ministering to D-H staff on a daily basis for the last six years. In the wake of the incident that took place on September 12 at D-H, his role – and that of our chaplaincy staff – have been an essential part of the collective healing process for the organization. We invited Rev. Mächt to offer some reflections in the wake of this tragedy.

When patients are entrusted into our care, it is our top priority to keep them safe. ‘First, do no harm’ is a guiding principle that is instilled in physicians and health care workers of various disciplines from the very beginning of our training. Every day, we work hard to create a safe environment so that healing can take place.

Over the past two years, we have seen and experienced a steady increase of disruptive behaviors in our patient population that has impacted our own sense of safety at work. Often it is front-line staff – nurses, physicians, associate providers and other health professionals – who are exposed to verbal abuse and sometimes violent aggression from patients with complex psycho-social needs and/or substance abuse problems. Being exposed to violent behaviors takes its toll and can do harm to body, mind and spirit, especially when those exposures resonate with other experiences in our lives or environment.

On September 12, many of us at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center were affected in one way or another by a particular act of violence, when a family member shot and killed one of our patients in our busy Intensive Care Unit. That event strongly affected our sense of safety not only at the time, but also in the aftermath when we recognized that a similar event could occur almost anywhere in our facility or community. The most recent – in a seemingly endless and worsening list of public shootings – incident in Las Vegas further adds to the sense of vulnerability we may feel in public places. These events increasingly are happening not only at airports, but also at places of entertainment, such as nightclubs or concert venues.

That someone would take a life of a family member when most vulnerable in a hospital bed or the lives of many strangers having fun at a concert and cause so much hurt with intent, no matter the mental status at the time, is especially painful and distressing. We would like to understand the reasons behind such senseless actions, only to learn that family members of those directly involved are just as dumbfounded and aghast as the rest of us. There is no rhyme or reason, no answer to the question: Why? That these random acts of violence seem to have no clear motive further erodes our sense of safety, since one only needs to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not going to work and foregoing all forms of public entertainment is neither a viable nor a desirable option (although some may argue with the former). For myself, I do not want to live with security checks when I enter or exit a building or public venue, neither where I work nor where I play. I guess I need to learn how to live with my seemingly increasing sense of vulnerability, which I am not quite accustomed to in places that used to be exempt from feeling unsafe. I do realize that my yearning for complete control or fool-proof safety from all harm is an illusion. And that this thought is accompanied by a feeling of an innocence lost. I miss that innocence.

At D-H, I trust that we will do everything to evaluate our immediate response to the recent shooting on our campus and put in place any additional measures that may reasonably mediate particular risks to keep us and our patients safe. That will likely not eliminate all concerns and fears, yet may provide some peace of mind and allow healing to take place.

Exposure to violence in its various forms often have a strong impact on our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Please, be aware that our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselors and chaplains are here at D-H to support you in the wake of any distressing experiences. Our EAP (603.650.5819) on the Lebanon campus is located near the Fuller Board Room close to the rotunda or view the EAP website for system-wide resources; our chaplaincy offices (603.650.7939) in Lebanon are on the main mall next to the gift shop.