CHARLOTTE — Hospitals are not supposed to be hotels but for some kids, they’ve become a home away from home. Police say children get treatment, but their parents refuse to come and pick them up.
That puts the hospital in a difficult spot because they can’t kick kids out on the street.
Anthony Mutabazi lived in a hospital for six months when he was 12 years old.
“It did not sit right in my mind that someone could just leave you after caring for you for so long and just drop you off as if they don’t care,” Mutabazi told Channel 9′s Glenn Counts.
This happened in Oklahoma City.
“So, six months in a place like that, thinking that nobody is going to come and pick you up and nobody is going to care for you,” Mutabazi said.
Law enforcement sources told Counts there are children like Mutabazi in Charlotte living in hospitals.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department had a meeting recently to discuss the growing issue.
Sources within the department said it’s a complicated situation.
That is because difficult to cite parents or caregivers for neglect because the kids are technically in a safe place.
“We have children and youth who are staying in emergency departments who don’t need emergency level care all across the state,” said Nicholle Karim, with the North Carolina Health Care Association.
Karim said some of the families are struggling, not because of a lack of effort, but because of a lack of support.
“Hospitals are not going to be able to fix this on their own,” she said. “What we’re seeing happening in hospitals right now is a direct result of other parts of our system that aren’t working.”
Counts was not given a specific number of children affected in Charlotte but he was told that number is in the dozens.
Counts reached out to Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, which has the duty to protect children.
The agency acknowledged the issue and told Counts that DSS works with health care providers, families, and other partners to assess each situation and follow North Carolina law in addressing it.
Peter Mutabazi adopted Anthony Mutabazi out of the Oklahoma City hospital five years ago. He thinks there should be more teeth in the law to address situations, such as this.
“I’m blessed that I got that phone call,” Peter Mutabazi said. “I could have said no, but I’m glad I said yes. But for the family who raised him and somehow along the way changed their mind, they have no idea what they have missed. How bright he is and how he’s growing.”
The North Carolina legislature provided a boost in funding for child mental health services in the state budget.
As a result, additional help is on the way but improvements take time and experts say the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
VIDEO: Single dad opens home to foster children, hopes to inspire others
©2023 Cox Media Group