EMS Called For Student Thought To Be OD Risk

Student Dies of Overdose Two Days After University Evaluation

Published: March 2, 2011

As the Fordham community now knows via a recent university mass e-mail, Hayden Hartnett, FCLC ’12,  died of an apparent overdose on the morning of Sunday, Feb. 20 in her room in McMahon Hall.  After interviewing 12 students and staff, some of whom would not speak for attribution, the Observer has learned that Hartnett’s death, alluded to as a suicide at a memorial service on Feb. 21, was preceded two days earlier by a call to 9-1-1 made by a student who suspected that Hartnett had overdosed on drugs. Later that morning, according to an administrator, Hartnett was evaluated by campus security. Despite Hartnett’s acknowledgment to security that she had ingested alcohol and prescription pills recently, she was not questioned about possible suicidal intentions nor was she sent to the counseling center for further evaluation, according to a student who was with her at the time.

Hayden Hartnett, FCLC ’12, was found unresponsive in her dorm. (Courtesy of Facebook)

“I told Vickki Massy, [assistant director of Residential Life], police and the security supervisor that [Hartnett] had tried this multiple times before,” said the student who called 9-1-1.

John Carroll, associate vice president for safety and security, said there was no such information included in the incident report filed on Feb. 18. Carroll said that, according to the report, Hartnett appeared lucid and not in need of immediate medical attention when Joseph Cvelic, Security Supervisor evaluated her. Residential Life declined to comment, referring the Observer to the university spokesman.

Usual practice in the case of a mental health emergency occurring during university business hours is that the dean of students and/or counseling services are to be contacted in order to “find a professional who will assist immediately,” according to the brochure, “Responding to Mental Health Emergencies,”posted on the counseling center’s webpage. Security is to be contacted if the emergency takes place after business hours so that they may assist in finding professional help for the student.

Jennifer Neuhof, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, confirmed that the counseling center is to be notified in the case of a mental health emergency. “If a student is believed to be mentally unstable, unable to care for him or herself, or a threat to self or others, they will be walked to our office immediately,” she said. “If it is an emergency or a person is a suspected threat to self or others, we are always notified.”

Despite the fact that EMS was called because another student was concerned that Hartnett had taken a dangerous amount of prescription pills, the university did not respond to the 9-1-1 call as if it were a mental health emergency, in which the dean of students and/or counseling services would be notified immediately. Hartnett was not taken to the counseling center or hospital, according to Luca Vescovi, FCLC ’12, who accompanied her to security.

“She talked to the head of security and said, ‘I’m fine,’” Vescovi said. “She told him she was okay. He said something like, ‘I know you guys do stupid stuff; essentially we are not interested in busting you about this. We care about you being okay. We want to make sure you’re alive and well.’” The Observer attempted to reach Cvelic by e-mail so that he could confirm his comments, but as of deadline, he has not responded.

Keith Eldredge, dean of students, said that not every call to 9-1-1 is considered a mental health emergency, in which the student is deemed to be at risk of harming him/herself or others. “I think if the information we have is about a drug overdose or suicidal threats, that would constitute an emergency,” Eldredge said. “But we assess the situation based on the information we get from students who report it to us or members of the community, as well as on the information the emergency personnel have.”

“I did make it clear that [Hartnett] had tried this before,” the 9-1-1 caller said.

Asked why Hartnett had not been escorted to the Counseling Center, also located in McMahon Hall, Eldredge said he could not answer that question.  The Observer could not ascertain the time of when security informed Eldredge of the results of Hartnett’s evaluation. Residential Life staff were also aware that EMS had been called for Hartnett, since several students saw Massy accompanying EMS personnel.

The Observer has reconstructed the events of Friday morning according to input from those with knowledge of the circumstances.

Once EMS arrived at McMahon Hall on Friday morning, they entered apartment 10H looking for Hartnett. The students living in that apartment were then questioned about the whereabouts of a “student taking pills.”

“Around 10:15 [a.m.] we got a really loud knocking on door; [it was] very forceful,” Aileen Almonte, FCLC ’12, said. “I see a [Res Life staff member], two male cops and head of security. They asked, ‘Did someone call the cops in your room?’”

Almonte and her roommates were unaware of any EMS call and told this to the officers, who then proceeded to check their apartment.

“They kept insisting that someone here had called. They said [someone] had called that there was girl in here that might be taking pills,” she said.

It was later discovered that Residential Life and EMS had entered the wrong room, and they proceeded to check the apartment next door, 10G, according to Almonte.

Before EMS had arrived at her room, Hartnett had left her apartment, Carroll said. Vescovi said that paramedics saw Hartnett before leaving, though he did not specify where they met her.

“She spoke to EMS. She told me she had run into them. I don’t know what extent she talked to them. She told them she was O.K. and left school,” Vescovi said.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., Vescovi received a phone call from university security.

“Fordham security had me bring her back,” he said. “They told me, we are concerned; bring her back so she can do a quick check with us, [so] I brought her back to Fordham.”

When Hartnett and Vescovi returned to campus, they met with Cvelic. According to Vescovi, Hartnett told Cvelic that she had recently mixed prescription pills with alcohol. “She said it was a combination of alcohol and medication and she was speaking clearly to security,” he said. “[Cvelic] assumed this was a stupid mistake. I don’t know if he interpreted it as intentional.”

According to Carroll, the incident report filed by Cvelic was consistent with Vescovi’s account. “When [Hartnett] came back she was forthright and stated that she wasn’t drunk or intoxicated. He thought she was not in need of immediate attention. It’s clearly written on the incident report that she stated she was under the care of a psychiatrist, she was on medication and she had had a few drinks the night before and was feeling the effects of them. She appeared perfectly lucid and clear. Cvelic recommended that she go to her psychiatrist and advised her to go to counseling, but he did not think she needed immediate medical care.”

The 9-1-1 caller said, “I was so baffled when I heard that she was completely coherent. I had called her and she didn’t say anything at all for 20 seconds. She seemed out of it.” The student said, “I don’t understand how [the university] would leave [Hartnett] alone and not take the call seriously. [Hartnett] wasn’t ‘fine;’ she had taken a bunch of pills.”

Eldredge said that when a student is brought to security, Residential Life or himself for a “first-level assessment” as to whether or not he or she needs medical assistance, that determination is “a matter of looking at the student’s overall behavior. Does the student seem altered? Are they coherent, able to have a conversation? In general, are they under the influence? We’ll ask questions to determine the imminent nature of the risk. If it is imminent then we’ll make the decision to send them to the counseling center [during business hours] or call 9-1-1 [after hours].”

After her evaluation by security, Hartnett was allowed to return to her room, according to Vescovi.

“I don’t know if anyone contacted her from school [following her evaluation by security],” Vescovi said. “I knew during the day she was feeling really down.”

An anonymous student said that she saw Hartnett in the dorms later that day, at about 4 p.m., unaccompanied by university staff. Hartnett was looking for concealer.

“It looked like she was crying. She kind of looked like a mess,” the student said. “She did not look normal at all. As we were going out, Hayden said something like, ‘Have a good weekend.’ She [Hartnett] looked like she had been upset.”

The Observer was not able to learn how Hartnett spent Saturday. But in the early morning of Sunday, Feb. 20, Hartnett was found unresponsive in her room. According to the e-mail sent out by the university, she was rushed to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital but physicians were unable to revive her. A memorial service open to the Fordham community was held the following evening on Feb. 21 at the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel, on the Lincoln Center campus.

“Having been here five years and part of higher education most of my life, this is the worst thing that can happen,” Bob Howe, director of communications, said. “This is what we worry about. There’s always going to be students at risk all the time. It’s a big responsibility. The people here take it very seriously. This is not a casual thing.”