‘The worst of the worst’: Triad health care worker shares experience with foster care children living in hospitals

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — FOX8 is getting a firsthand account from a person who works at a local hospital about the children living in emergency rooms.

It’s a story we first brought you at the beginning of the year. For months at a time kids are staying in the ER while they wait for the State Department of Social Services to place them in a group home or foster family.

The woman we spoke to has worked a Moses Cone Hospital for nearly three years. She asked FOX8 to protect her identity and job title.

She’s seen some children as young as six years old all the way up to 17. As of Monday, there were six minors living at the hospital. The woman said many of these kids have behavioral issues. It’s taking a toll on health care workers’ mental and physical health.

“The kids they are leaving in the ED are kids that are the worst of the worst,” she said. “They technically belong in juvenile hall, but because of our juvenile system, they won’t go. We’ve had nurses assaulted where they’re getting a concussion. They have their nose broken, so they need surgery.”

It’s hard for her to work in that kind of environment.

“It’s extremely frustrating because it diverts my attention from the kids that really need the help that are in true mental health crisis or in true physical crisis,” she said. “It’s almost like we’re running an adult daycare. We’re not designed for that. We don’t have the resources in place to give these kids the proper guidance and care they need.”

The Moses Cone worker said some kids are staying for up to seven months at a time.

“They have hygiene products that we provide them,” she said. They are wearing hospital issued clothes, but they’re undergarments are their own. And half the time they have to wash them in their sink or we have to take them home and wash them. It is frustrating for the children, so then they act out even more because they’re frustrated with their situation.”

The woman said she’d like answers from the Department of Social Services.

In a meeting late last week, Assistant Guilford County Manager Victor Isler addressed the concerns.

“Having youth have the ability to transition from one placement to a high level of care or either from assessment and stabilization from the ED to a group home or residential program has been of hardship,” he said.

Isler said the Behavioral Health Advisory Board is actively looking at ways to place these kids in more permanent homes faster.

“How can we work with the state office to identify a collaborative model to look at solutions and then what does our system of care locally look like,” he said. “How can we be Guilford-centric? Not just for foster care children but also children that are justice involved and then also how can we move forward with some shared strategies hopefully to transition youth from our emergency rooms sooner.”

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The health care worker would like to see some accountability.

“Just for DSS to be more accountable and be held like a parent would be held,” she said.

This woman said there are also some adults who’ve aged out of DSS care and are living in the ER awaiting help. As of Monday, there were two at Moses Cone Hospital.