‘Stuck in limbo’: Lawsuit says Md. foster children held in hospitals, psychiatric facilities for no medical reason

Children in the Maryland foster care system are being held in hospital and psychiatric facilities when it was not “medically necessary,” according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

Attorneys with Disability Rights Maryland and Venable LLP stated in the suit that Maryland state agencies, including the Department of Human Services and the Maryland Department of Health, have violated the rights of dozens of children by “illegally and unconstitutionally” placing foster children in hospitals and restrictive settings when there is no medical reason for them to be there.

Mitchell Mirviss, a partner at Venable, told WTOP that the lawsuit has been filed on behalf of children in foster care, some of whom have disabilities or have experienced some sort of crisis and are in need of specialized treatment or services. “We allege that this violates the ADA and another federal statute that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities,” Mirviss said.

“We also allege that it violates the children’s rights under the Medicaid statute to get the type of medical care they need,” Mirviss added.

According to the 90-page complaint, the four plaintiffs identified in the suit are “experiencing, or are at imminent risk of experiencing, medically unnecessary hospitalization.”

The status of the children, often referred to as hospital “overstays,” have affected more than 100 children a year, and overstays have been a “chronic problem in Maryland for at least the past five years,” according to the complaint.

When asked why the overstays continue to happen, Mirviss told WTOP it’s “because local departments of social services don’t have placements for them.”

He told WTOP that in one case, an 8-year-old boy who had been placed in foster care got involved in a fight with the foster parents’ child. “The foster parent called the police and boom, he was off to the hospital and it took about 45 days to get him out,” Mirviss said.

He added that one juvenile was kept in restricted facilities for nearly two years. The complaint referenced a case in which a child was deemed ready for discharge from a psychiatric hospital after 13 days, but remained hospitalized for more than one year while waiting for placement.

Mirviss said in those circumstances, the children are often “not getting much of an education, usually about six hours of tutoring a week, when it even occurs.”

“It really is being stuck in limbo at a crucial time for any child or youth’s development,” he added.

The goal of the lawsuit, said Mirviss, is to get the state “to create more placements, more community-based placements, and to provide intensive crisis intervention clinical services” to the children and young people affected.

Two of the four plaintiffs in the case are from Montgomery County, and one is from Prince George’s County.

Along with declaratory and injunctive relief, the suit seeks monetary damages in a jury trial.

WTOP has reached out to the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Department of Human Services for a response to the lawsuit.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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