Published Wed, Jan 27, 2010 04:52 AM
Modified Wed, Jan 27, 2010 05:06 AM
Mom camps out to get spot in mental ward for son
RALEIGH Salima Mabry watched over her son Tuesday as he slept awkwardly in the chair where he had spent eight days waiting for a bed in a state mental hospital.
Joshua Stewart, 13, is severely autistic and has an IQ of 36. He can only speak in short, single words, such as "Ma" or "hurt."
He first arrived at Wake County's Crisis and Assessment unit for people with mental illness in the back of a squad car on Jan.18 after he attacked his mother and little brother.
The mother and son began a second week in a small interview room with no bed, no television and a single window. There was also no shower. Mabry had been sponging Joshua off over the sink in a public restroom down the hall. In a corner of the room are several plastic shopping bags stuffed with clothes.
"I'm exhausted," she said. "Most people flip out if they have to wait an hour to see the doctor. We've been here eight days. They say we've broken the record for waiting."
Joshua is among thousands of patients within the last year who have languished in emergency rooms or mental health clinics waiting for an open bed in a psychiatric hospital.
Years of budget cuts and failed reforms have left North Carolina's mental health system without sufficient resources to care for all those who need help.
The budget Gov. Bev Perdue signed in August cut $155million from an already struggling system, resulting in the loss of 354 jobs at state hospitals.
"Sadly, this young man is just one of many who will be stuck as the cuts to state services really hit home," said Vicki Smith, director of the advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina. "People aren't getting the help they need; they go into crisis and then require crisis care and hospitalization."
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