A 13-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder was abandoned by his father at UCHealth Longs Peak emergency department for several weeks and received little to no help from state and county agencies, according to email correspondence obtained by the Times-Call.
It isn’t clear if the 13-year-old boy is still staying at the hospital.
Citing patient privacy laws, a UCHealth spokesperson declined to comment.
The boy was brought to the hospital on June 6 due to behavioral issues at home, and medical staff attempted to place him in an inpatient psychiatric facility, the email records show.
However, the teenager did not meet the criteria for such a facility and was cleared medically and psychiatrically for discharge on June 7, when his father refused to pick him up.
Hospital staff filed three reports with Child Protective Services in addition to a police report for neglect, abandonment and interference with a hospital discharge, according to the email exchanges.
Longmont Public Safety spokesperson Robin Ericson said Thursday that state statute prohibits the department from discussing any specific case involving a minor.
It is standard practice for Longmont police to contact the county housing and human services agency where the minor resides when a situation involves a child’s safety, well-being or placement, Ericson said.
“Unfortunately, what has been explained to us by all agencies involved is that this is a statewide resource issue and that this will likely take months to secure placement for patient,” an email sent on June 27 from a UCHealth employee to state Rep. Judy Amabile said.
The email from the UCHealth employee to Amabile went on to say, “Boulder County (Housing and Human Services) has not spent more than five minutes with this child since his arrival three weeks ago.”
After being made aware of the situation, Amabile emailed several state and Boulder County employees on June 28 to see if anything could be done to help the teenager.
“I know you are working on a solution, but there must be something that can be done to get this child out of the emergency room and into appropriate care? We can’t in good conscience leave this young person in the ER for months — can we?” Amabile wrote.
In a separate interview Thursday, Amabile said the child welfare system is “really struggling.”
“The idea that somebody who doesn’t need to be in an ER at all ends up spending… almost a month. That’s just, that’s really… not good,” Amabile said.
Khari Hunt, who works as deputy director of prevention, protection and partnerships for Boulder County Housing and Human Services, said in an email Thursday that the county is unable to confirm or deny whether or not it provides support services to any one person due to state statute.
Hunt, though, insisted that the department works tirelessly with hospitals, mental health facilities and other institutions to get every young person who is experiencing crisis the resources they need.
“Situations similar to the one (described) are almost always much more complex than they appear to be, and depending on the circumstance, some placements can be extremely difficult to make,” Hunt said. “In all scenarios, we exhaust all options every day until we can find a solution.”
Hunt went on to say that Boulder County Housing and Human Services staff are not trained, qualified or tasked with safely providing longer-term care for community members suffering through behavioral health emergencies.
“We are acutely aware of the impact extended stays in local hospitals, child welfare offices, and detention centers have on the children and youth who most need behavioral health support,” Hunt said. “Our hearts are breaking for the children and families most impacted by this shortage of longer-term resources for young people in behavioral health crisis.”
Madlynn Ruble, deputy director of communications for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said Thursday that she too could not provide specifics about the situation due to privacy laws.
Ruble said such cases are “heartbreaking” and that the state department of human services works closely with other agencies to seek safe resolutions.
“Currently, Colorado’s continuum of options is unable to adequately and safely serve children and youth with the most complex medical and behavioral health needs due to workforce shortages and economic challenges,” Ruble wrote in an email Thursday. “Every month there are children and youth who are either living in residential settings out of state, sleeping in county offices or hotels overnight, or staying in hospital or detention settings past when it is appropriate for them to be there.”
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