GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Children and adults across our state are living in emergency rooms.

They’re not sick or injured. They just have no place to go. With the passage of the state budget, help could be on the way but it might take a while.


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Medicaid expansion is expected to roll out in the coming weeks, which will help many families get the health care support they need. There is also a provision in the budget, which allows for parents to continue accessing services through Medicaid if their children are removed from their custody. That will allow parents to get the help they need, whether it be substance abuse-related or otherwise, in order to get their kids back.

The state budget invests $835 million in behavioral health and resiliency within the State Department of Health and Human Services. Lawmakers said it’s a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before solving this problem.

“Parties on both sides and not done their job to adequately fund the mental health infrastructure in the state,” said Senator Michael Garrett, who represents Guilford County in the State Senate. “I think that’s something that we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about because as we start bringing more patients into the healthcare system, we have to expand and improve the infrastructure to serve them.”

By Dec. 1, more than half a million North Carolinians will have access to Medicaid.

“It’s not just about the single patient that’s going to receive the benefit of that healthcare,” said Garrett. “It’s about the family that is also involved.”

They’ll have access to better health care services, including mental health care. Senator Garrett said the General Assembly approved funding for additional mental health crisis centers in the state and mobile behavioral health units.

Some of the people who might benefit are the dozens of children living in emergency rooms across our region waiting for placement in group homes or foster care.

 To have children living in emergency rooms, it’s reprehensible, and I think it’s a moral failing in the state of North Carolina and the General Assembly to not have been funding these services,” said Garrett.

Those children aren’t getting the support and attention they need.

 “I don’t think you have to be a policy expert or a clinician to understand that the emergency department is not the place where people get better from whatever crisis is going on,” said Corye Dunn, the director of public policy for Disability Rights North Carolina.

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Dunn said our lawmakers are taking important steps forward to address these issues, but we won’t see results immediately.

“We know that when those 600,000 people come into the system, it’s going to take a while for their healthcare to get stabilized and for their health needs, their unmet health needs to be addressed,” she said.

The General Assembly endorsed moving forward with a plan within Medicaid, which will provide services for children in the Department of Social Services’ custody. It’s called the Children and Families Specialty Plan, which will ensure access to physical and behavioral health services and improve coordination between service providers, families and DSS.