Nowhere to turn: Mental health services lacking for local families

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, September 26, 2023

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Dusty’s nightmare started last February.

Except it wasn’t a nightmare, it has been a real-life daily struggle in her Davie home.

Of her and her husband’s eight children, three are adopted siblings from a mother on drugs. All are developmentally disabled.

“For the first time in our lives, we had to call the police to our house,” she told county commissioners last week, one of two speakers urging better care for residents with mental illness.

Three years ago, their oldest adopted daughter became an adult. They became her legal guardians.

“While I’m incredibly thankful for the kind sheriffs that arrived to assist us, this was a very scary experience for our other children.”

Their daughter, who functions at a third grade level, was kept in the hospital for 10 days. At a follow-up appointment the next day, it was recommended she be re-admitted to the hospital. She spent another week in the hospital before returning home.

“Two weeks later, we had to call the police again,” Dusty said. “She now had suicidal and homicidal intentions.”

She spent another week in the hospital.

In the meantime, Dusty’s other children were traumatized by the ordeals and were diagnosed with PTSD.

“The psyciatrist who saw our children told us we could not bring the other daughter home because my other children would not be safe,” she said.

Dusty was told at the hospital that a homeless shelter was an option – an option that came with a possible “abandonment” charge for Dusty and her husband. It was never an option in their minds; they love their daughter, she said.

“Our daughter came home heavily medicated for what they hoped would be a very short time. But it has been seven months. We now walk on eggshells to not trigger this person who has caused so much chaos in our home.”

It has hurt the family’s finances, as well. More doctors, more appointments. Her husband, the sole breadwinner, misses an average of eight days of work a month.

The family has been through two case managers with Partners, the health care management company the county aligned with in 2021. “Neither have been able to find any services for her,” Dusty said. “Our daughter’s psychiatrist feels that a group home would be very appropriate, as did her pediatrician.”

But the health care managers wouldn’t approve payment for a group home setting. And there was a 10-year wait list.

“It truly feels as if there is no hope for our daughter to move out of our home so our family can heal and she can get the services she needs,” Dusty said.

To top all of that off, her daughter now suffers from liver disease because of the toxicity of her medications. “The amount of medications she needs to stay home is not a sustainable situation. Our daughter needs a therapeutic environment.

“The psychiatrist says our other children will not be able to heal as long as she is at home. This experience has deeply traumatized my family. We love our daughter and pray that she can get the services she needs.

“We are a Davie County family that has fallen through the cracks,” she said.

They aren’t the only Davie County family that has fallen through the cracks.

Julie Whittaker, a mental health advocate and regular speaker at the monthly commission meetings, said: “There are families in Davie County who are not getting mental health services and support as needed.”

She told about one “large” company with an out-of-state manager who called her, asking what to do. “That manager had regular contact with an employee here and learned that the family is struggling since an adult with a diagnosis of a lifelong mental health condition graduated from the county school programs and now has no place go do daily while his parents work.”

They aren’t alone.

“Sadly, many families have this experience and go through a long and difficult learning curve, and then a long waiting period before they find the support and services needed … if these are even available.” Even families who know how to work the system “still struggle to get the services needed.”

Whittaker urged the board to make sure Davie is represented on the Partners board with a knowledgeable and working member, to study the number of people who visit an emergency room for mental health issues, as well as the care they receive there and afterwards. Check on homeless numbers and suicide attempts, she said, as well as calls on drug overdoses.

“What can be done to improve county support for our citizens and improve transparency regarding common and frequent mental health issues?”