By Taylor Knopf, North Carolina Health News
A 9-year-old girl with mental health issues spent at least four months this spring living in a Novant Health emergency room in Wilmington: sleeping, eating, doing school work. During that time, ER staff searched for an available mental health facility that could take a child so young.
“I have kids that have been in our hospital for three, four or five months waiting for an appropriate living situation,” said Paula Bird, vice president of behavioral health services at Novant Health, the Winston-Salem-based hospital network that operates Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
She explained that many of these long stays occur when a county department of social services is involved. In some cases, overwhelmed parents bring their child to the ER and leave, saying they can’t take the child back home without some kind of treatment.
The Wilmington case, which was described by Bird, is not unique. Hospital officials across the state say there are children in mental health distress living in their emergency departments. Atrium Health has seen a 65% increase in emergency department patients needing psychiatric care, according to leaders at the Charlotte-based hospital group. For children in need of psychiatric care, the demand tripled over the course of the pandemic…