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No beds: Ennis Center waits for weeks in ER with child to get mental health help

It’s a problem that needed a solution years ago, according to the center’s president
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 5:34 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Foster kids needing mental health help are forced to sit and wait for an open bed, according to the Ennis Center for Children.

Someone from the center’s staff has to wait with them 24/7.

It’s a problem the president and founder, Bob Ennis, said has been ongoing for some time. It’s getting worse as more and more of the 500 children they serve are in need of mental health services.

“If you have children and that child’s removed from his mom, that’s trauma. And on top, if you’ve been abused or neglected that’s trauma just coming into the system,” he said. “So all these kids have issues from mild trauma all the way to major trauma.”

Ennis said that trauma presents in several different ways, from emotional issues to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

When it gets to that point, Ennis said the child has to be hospitalized. The seven hospitals in Michigan he said are equipped to handle a child’s needs are consistently full.

“We don’t have a children psychiatric ward at any of our hospitals here that’s really big enough to handle the number of kids that are coming. And so, we got to get those up across the state and across the nation. Everything I read is that about 20% of the kids who need help are getting it and that’s very scary to us. So we’re trying to get it fixed,” he said.

Right now, because there are not enough beds, Ennis said the kids have to wait in a hospital’s ER until a bed is available. A member of his staff must stay with them at all times. These are volunteers, they’re not getting paid.

In February alone, Ennis said his staff spent three weeks waiting in an ER with just one child.

“And all of a sudden for whatever reason or reasons, we had COVID or whatever, the amount of kids needing it is going up,” he said.

So what’s the solution? Ennis said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed to meet next week to come up with a plan.

“I’m looking to partner with them, that we find solutions, that we go to the Legislature together, we do educational pieces together, and we find and push for services and a full continuum of our kids,” Ennis said.

He wanted to make it clear that he’s not asking for more money. He wants the red tape surrounding who can help who cut down the stigma surrounding mental health erased and the ability to create short term hospitalization in already existing facilities.

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