Communication is Key in Emergencies

Published: March 2, 2011

Reporting on the circumstances surrounding the death of Hayden Hartnett, FCLC ’12, has been the most difficult task the Observer board has undertaken this academic year. It was difficult not only as a piece of journalism, but as a story that affected us each on a personal level. We had to ask a lot of hard questions of people whom we respect and whose intentions we know are good. We had to ask hard questions of people who were already suffering because of Hayden Hartnett’s death. We had to check, recheck and check again every statement we made to be sure that each had been verified by at least two separate sources, many of whom had been reluctant to speak with us on the record. No one, interviewers or interviewees, wanted this story to be necessary.

Unfortunately, the story of Hayden Hartnett’s last days is one that must be told. As reported in the article “EMS Called For Student Thought To Be OD Risk” on page one, her death did not happen without context; just two days earlier, one of her friends had called 9-1-1 out of fear that Hayden’s life was in jeopardy. Even then, the friend said that it wasn’t the first time Hayden had so endangered herself. After calling 9-1-1, the friend conveyed this information to multiple university staff members. But somehow, the message wasn’t heard in full; after speaking with a security supervisor, Hayden was allowed to return to her dorm without having been evaluated by a medical professional.

We know not all tragedies are preventable. However, in the last two days of her life, there were warning signs that this student was on a dangerous path, and it is not clear that they were adequately communicated among the various levels of university staff that handled Hayden’s case. The Observer has no doubt that the intentions of the individuals involved were honorable, but for some reason, those who should have been speaking to each other weren’t, or at least they seemed not to be saying what they should have been saying.

In the wake of this tragedy, we urge Fordham’s administration to revisit the university’s standard procedures surrounding mental health- and drug-related emergencies. Hayden Hartnett was in a state of crisis that went undetected despite a friend’s efforts to alert staff. Placing blame is not productive, so Fordham must now look forward in order to ensure that other students with struggles similar to Hayden’s will be able to receive the care they need. The Fordham community—including faculty, students and administrators—needs to be more candid and honest with one another so that potentially lifesaving information doesn’t go unshared. Hayden Hartnett’s death is a tragedy that has been painful for us all; Fordham must take all possible steps to ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.