Lawsuit accuses Maryland of 'warehousing' foster children with behavioral health issues in hospitals


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May 17, 2023

Lawsuit accuses Maryland of 'warehousing' foster children with behavioral health issues in hospitals

By Mike Hellgren June 2, 2023 / 10:44 PM

By Mike Hellgren

June 2, 2023 / 10:44 PM / CBS Baltimore

BALTIMORE -- A new lawsuit is bringing attention to a crisis involving some Maryland children.

Disability rights advocates are suing the state claiming kids with behavioral health issues are being warehoused in hospitals and emergency rooms and state officials are not doing enough to solve the problem.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren has more on the legal action being taken by the non-profit Disability Rights Maryland.

"They're not intended to be taking care of kids who need intensive services that aren't hospital-based services," Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney and policy counsel for Disability Rights Maryland. "These are kids who are taking up hospital beds that could be used by people who actually need to be in the hospital."

The lawsuit alleges that defendants, "all of whom are state officials, and/or their predecessors have failed to plan for and ensure… behavioral health services."

Children are identified by their initials.

D.R., who has been hospitalized for over a year, was only allowed outside briefly in an area the foster child referred to as a "cage."

And A.B., a 17-year-old boy with autism, spent time in emergency rooms and was sent to a short-term psychiatric unit for more than six months. That's where he died.

A.B.'s death remains under investigation.

"It's truly disturbing and difficult to see because kids are in the hospital for weeks, sometimes months," Luciene Parsley, the legal director of Disability Rights Maryland, said. "Occasionally we've had children in the hospital for up to a year. They're not getting any schooling. They're living in a hospital where they can't go outside. They can't get fresh air. They can't interact with their peers."

CBS News recently put a spotlight on the child mental health crisis nationwide—the lack of programs and facilities to help them—speaking to some of the children directly impacted.

In Maryland, advocates hope for more options for kids with behavioral issues, including assistance in their homes and an independent monitor to make sure the state is not just leaving kids in hospital rooms.

"It's my hope that we can actually summon the will on the decision-makers in our state and fix this," Seid Margolis said.

The lawsuit was first reported by WJZ's news partners at The Baltimore Banner.

It says this issue affects more than 100 kids each year, and Baltimore City is not part of it but every county is included.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren came to WJZ in the spring of 2004. Solid reporting credentials and a reputation for breaking important news stories have characterized Mike's work. Mike holds a B.S. degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and grew up partly in both Chicago and Louisiana.

First published on June 2, 2023 / 10:44 PM

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