Over the last several years, hundreds of Maryland children have spent weeks, sometimes months in hospitals for no medical reason. That practice is now the subject of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court. WYPR’s Rachel Baye has been reporting on this issue and joined Ashley Sterner to explain.
Sterner: Rachel, tell us what’s going on here.
Baye: For several years now, children in Maryland’s foster care system who have severe behavioral health needs, in the words of the legal complaint filed Tuesday, have been “warehoused” in hospitals when social workers don’t have anywhere else to put them.
According to the lawsuit, this is a problem the state could solve but has chosen not to.
Mitch Mirviss, a partner at the law firm Venable, is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Mirviss: We are challenging the lack of sufficient supply of appropriate placements in the community, as well as a lack of appropriate therapeutic clinical interventions, emergency services, wraparound programs, etc., that would allow these children to be placed more readily in the community.
Sterner: Explain how this process works. Exactly how are these children ending up stuck in hospitals?
Baye: I’ll give you an example using one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. This plaintiff is a 13-year-old boy identified by the initials T.A, who, according to the legal complaint, has multiple developmental and mental health disabilities. T.A. is in the custody of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. In mid-November, he ended up at Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital, after an altercation on a school bus. Less than two weeks later, the medical staff cleared T.A. to be released. But social workers didn’t pick him up, and six months later, he is still there. The lawsuit says T.A. has been accepted to a residential treatment center in Florida and could go as early as next week, depending on when a bed becomes available.
Sterner: So what happens to T.A. in the meantime? What does six months living in a psychiatric hospital look like for kids like T.A.?
Baye: It’s important to remember that facilities like Sheppard Pratt are not set up for long-term care. That’s something that Leslie Seid Margolis, a managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland, described when we spoke. Disability Rights Maryland is also a plaintiff in the case.
Margolis: While these kids are in the hospital or in the emergency room, they’re generally not receiving education. They don’t have access to school, they’re not allowed to go out. So one of the things we’re asking is that they have access to education, and if they can’t go to school, that they at least get tutoring.