A Step Sideways For Care

Trigger Warning: SA

When a treatment facility is forced to close because of years of repeated patient abuses as well as for not providing basic care, it seems at first a victory. When you understand the brokenness of mental healthcare in our state, it’s really at best, a step sideways.

The Triangle Business Journal recently reported on the closure of a psychiatric treatment facility (paywall) in our area this week, a closure that’s well overdue, in my opinion. In 2020, my son was a patient there. Out of respect for his healing journey, I won’t elaborate on our experience with this specific facility- but it was certainly sub-optimal.

For newer readers, a quick introduction. My wife and I are foster/adoptive parents who currently have two sons receiving out-of-home mental health treatment. We’ve had other children come through our home with similar healthcare needs. Our particular journey ramped up in 2019 and is still traveling down a wild roller-coaster, navigating the North Carolina’s broken system. Our goal is to ensure our children receive the best possible treatment (first) and have opportunities for independence upon adulthood (second).

I’ve recently learned that Disability Rights NC has been doing yeoman’s work in identifying and shining light into the dark spaces of psychiatric care reform in our state. This work has garnered much needed attention on the issues at-hand and have caused parents like me to realize we aren’t the only ones running in circles. I feel deeply for the children that are alone in the state system without parents to advocate daily on their behalf.

The violations at the facility highlighted in the TBJ article are egregious, but not uncommon based on our experiences. According to the article, the facility has numerous safety violations, including access for kids to leave the facility and sexual assault. There’s also the deeply troubling violation of failing to provide basic therapeutic services to patients.

If a facility isn’t providing basic treatment to children who have such a tremendous need that they are living away from home- why is the facility open in the first place? We’ve had experience with about 10 such providers in multiple states and I can honestly say the lack of quality therapeutic care is our most common observation.

When a child has cancer, there are gleaming towers of our medical best in which the child will rightly receive the absolute most advanced care our society has to offer. When a child has a mental health crisis, there are marginally-maintained facilities tucked out-of-sight where the child will receive at best mediocre care by poorly paid and trained employees.

See the difference? It’s not that the child with cancer should receive less care, heaven forbid, it’s that we as a society value mental health care less than other forms of care. Where are the advanced, gleaming towers for mental health wellness?

I’m extremely grateful that my children are currently in exceptional facilities. They’ve floated around the system for years. They bear challenges that they didn’t cause, didn’t want and would do most anything to be rid of. They’re not damaged, as some have privately suggested to us, they’re not bad, they are children who are dealing with inherited issues and recovering from the effects of things done to them. Yet, we as a society treat them as second class.

So should we applaud now that the state has shuttered this facility? No. Despite its deplorable level of service there are now 116 less treatment beds in this state for those needing care. This is when the waiting list for beds is weeks long and our children are being shipped out of state for care. At best, it is a step sideways.

Quoted in the TBJ, the director of public policy for Disability Rights NC Corye Dunn correctly summarizes the problem by explaining how we as a society don’t invest in services before a child gets to this level of crisis. So true. Over the years, we’ve begged for this or that from an overwhelmed and inadequate system in order to provide at-home care for our children. But, our system directs kids to facilities that aren’t meeting the need.

Shouldn’t our kids get more respect than this? I wish more people thought they did.

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