NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Children in state care are spending months in Tennessee hospitals because the Department of Children’s Services has no other place for them.

The children are medically cleared but occupy hospital beds that could be used by others, especially during times of increased demand.

A child spent more than nine months – 276 days – in a children’s hospital after he should have been discharged.

Some hospital officials tell it NewsChannel 5 investigated They become a dumping ground for children that DCS cannot accommodate.

The Children’s Hospital Alliance of Tennessee (CHAT), which represents children’s hospitals across the state, said in a statement that the children “account for many hundreds of additional days not requiring hospital care.”

TennCare covers the cost of hospital care for children in DCS custody, but does not disclose how much taxpayers spend on the extended stays.

The Department of Children’s Services said it is difficult to place these children in foster care, and because they are medically vulnerable, they cannot remain in DCS office buildings like some other children.

It often begins in a pediatric emergency room.

A DCS caseworker brings a child to the hospital with a real medical problem.

Typically the children have just been removed from an abusive or neglectful home.

But as soon as the hospital says the child can walk, DCS says there is no place for the child to go.

State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, was disturbed by the details we showed her.

“Our state is failing. I think we failed these kids, and quite frankly, we failed DCS,” Campbell said.

Examples include a 10-year-old with muscular dystrophy who stayed at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville for 103 days.

DCS was unable to find placement for the child after his mother died of COVID and his father was unable to care for him.

Another 10-year-old with severe autism was hospitalized in the same hospital for 51 days.

He was ultimately sent to an out-of-state facility because DCS had no room for him.

And an insulin-dependent diabetic patient stayed for days because hospital records indicated that “DCS did not want to bring (the child) into the office because of the required insulin shots.”

“Choosing between office floors and hospitals is not a sensible choice,” said Senator Campbell.

DCS left a child with a mental health diagnosis at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for 270 days.

The child lived in a room from May 2021 to February 2022.

The agency left another child in a Johnson City hospital for 243 days, long after the child should have been released.

DCS Commissioner Margie Quin, who took over the agency in September, told Gov. Bill Lee, R-Tenn., that the agency received calls during budget hearings from hospitals concerned about children staying long-term.

“These are young people who are extremely difficult to place,” Quin said.

“They stay in hospitals for 100 days and are not acutely ill, but they cannot stay in an office and they are not appropriate in halfway houses,” Quin told the governor.

DCS has a nursing home shortage and has been forced to let some children sleep in office buildings.

A DCS lawyer said: “It can also be difficult to accommodate children in wheelchairs. The most difficult situations are those that have both medical and behavioral/mental health issues.”

Commissioner Quin called for more than $8.7 million to fund Assessment Treatment Homes that would be located throughout the state and house some of the most medically difficult to place children.

“They really need specialized care, and we just don’t have programs for them,” Commissioner Quin said at the budget hearing.

Senator Campbell cannot believe that the state often chooses between office floors and hospital rooms.

“Let’s take responsibility and give DCS the money we need to take care of the children,” Campbell said.

“Our state currently has more money in reserves than ever before, and there is absolutely no reason why we cannot ensure we are taking care of our most vulnerable,” Campbell said.

Lee signaled in the budget hearing that he was willing to fund requests from DCS for more money.

But even if the budget request is approved, it will still take months to get help – raising questions about what can be done now.

“These are issues that we should definitely be addressing in the Department of Child Care without sending children to the hospital,” said Senator Campbell.

Here is the full statement from the Children’s Hospital Alliance of Tennessee (CHAT):

“Children’s hospitals serve as a safety net for the physical and mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. For about a decade, children’s hospitals in Tennessee and nationally have seen a significant increase in the number of adolescents presenting to elementary school mental health diagnoses due to a lack of readily available services and fragmentation in the delivery system for these services is.

Another group of children admitted to our state’s children’s hospitals are those in DCS custody. These adolescents are often brought to the pediatric emergency department due to a genuine medical or behavioral need. However, when they are ready for discharge, DCS teams face the challenge of finding appropriate accommodations, which delays discharge. While these children remain in the hospital, resources are tied up that could be used by other children. The length of hospital stays nationwide ranges from several days to months, with a children’s hospital reporting the longest stay at 276 days.

Collectively, these patients cause many hundreds of additional days not requiring hospital care. DCS often states that placement options are limited or non-existent and that resources are inadequate to provide adequate care and support for these children. New DCS Commissioner Margie Quin recently recognized the problem of long hospital stays for some children and has a plan to address this and other issues facing DCS through key measures such as increased funding, improved training and increased support for caseworkers explained.

Mary Nell Bryan, President of the Children’s Hospital Alliance of Tennessee, said: “The Children’s Hospital Alliance of Tennessee appreciates the Department of Children’s Services staff working hard to address the challenges of finding foster homes for children, who are medically vulnerable or struggling with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Sometimes there are not enough suitable locations to make such transfers quickly. We appreciate Commissioner Quin’s request for increased funding and a plan to provide increased training and support for caseworkers. The work of DCS caseworkers and other DCS staff is critical. As can be said about working in hospitals, the work is challenging but also extremely rewarding. We urge families to consider accepting children who are medically vulnerable or have a chronic condition such as diabetes.”

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