Opinion Column

ROBERT WASHBURN

When violence, tragedy touch Northumberland

By Robert Washburn, Northumberland Today

Two people are dead following a shooting at Northumberland Hills Hospital at approximately 11 p.m. on Friday, October 27, 2017 in Cobourg, Ont. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating. Pete Fisher Photography

Two people are dead following a shooting at Northumberland Hills Hospital at approximately 11 p.m. on Friday, October 27, 2017 in Cobourg, Ont. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating. Pete Fisher Photography

The deaths of an elderly couple following a shooting at Northumberland Hills Hospital last Friday is tragic and a massive shock to the community.

A 70-year old man is dead after police responded to a 911 call to the hospital around 11 p.m. Nurses heard a shot and found a 76-year old woman with a head wound. Two Cobourg officers discharged their guns after encountering the senior man in a hallway. He was declared dead at the scene. The woman succumbed to her injuries despite efforts by the hospital staff to save her.

The OPP are investigating the woman's death, while the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is looking into the death of the man. It is mandatory the SIU investigates any incident where an officer discharges a firearm.

Speculation is rampant as people wait for more information. At first, there were many blanks, including names and details about what happened. Yet, the guessing and gossip were apparent both in conversation and on social media as many tried to explain things or grapple to understand why such a violent event happened in a small rural town.

This is a traumatic event for residents in Northumberland, but also for the hospital staff, police, people inside the emergency department and others. As more information is made available, the pieces will fall into place, and the sad, heartbreaking story will unfold. It will be essential to provide support for all involved - the family and friends of the victims, the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff, those waiting for treatment in the emergency department, the police and emergency services, along with others. Everyone involved will need care and understanding.

One significant example of this was the phone calls to patients by hospital Chief of Staff Mukesh Bhargava. The hospital also brought in trauma care specialists to support its staff.

But it will be equally important not to race towards a finger-pointing exercise leading to a blame game.

This kind of violence in a small hospital is not new in Canada. In 2006, a 77-year old man shot his 80-year old wife, then committed suicide at the Penticton Regional Hospital. In that same year, a 78-year old hospital volunteer at the Campbell River Hospital died after she was beaten to death by a 26-year old man while on duty. And, in 2003, an estranged husband shot his wife and mother-in-law at Mission Memorial Hospital.

A widely referenced study from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland looked at hospital shooting in the United States between 2000-2011. There were 154 hospital shooting during this period in Emergency Departments. Half of these were caused by patients being able to grab the gun of a security guard. Another 11 percent were related to prisoners being treated.

In a local radio interview, Northumberland Hills Hospital chief executive officer Linda Davis said the hospital would obviously be reviewing its security. The question about how a person got into the hospital carrying a gun will be at the top of the list. The recommendations coming from this and the SIU investigation will be significant measures for the community and will, no doubt, lead to much debate.

Let's hope the upcoming days and weeks are not driven by anxiety, fear, and anger. While Northumberland is proud of its picture-postcard appeal, it is not naïve enough to believe it is immune from reality. Our strength will be measured by compassion and common sense, not hysteria and hyperbole.

Robert Washburn is a professor in the Journalism and Communications program at Loyalist College. Columns are archived at his website Consider This