Family Waits Over 200 Hours for Son to Get Treatment at Hospital ER

A North Carolina family spent more than 200 hours waiting in the emergency room for proper health care for their 11-year-old autistic son.

Natania Barron and Michael Harrison took turns staying with their son, Liam, in the hospital from Friday, Oct. 6 until Monday, Oct. 16 — 255 hours — until he was finally placed in a program that could provide the psychiatric care he needed.

Barron wrote about her experience in a blog post on, where she is an editor. She wrote that Liam had a "psychotic break" and that the people at his school, Hope Creek Academy, could not control him.

"Four grown men could barely contain him. When I drove up to the school, Liam was trying to bolt for the street," she wrote.

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"I will spare details, but the long and short of it was that in his state we feared for his safety and the safety of those around him," she added.

She said that even though the school specializes in children with special needs, she pressed that the only way she and Harrison could get their son into a program that would meet his needs would be through the emergency room. That's when Liam began his 255-hour stay in the emergency room of UNC Hospitals.

"Unfortunately, it's not too uncommon," state Rep. Graig Meyer, D-District 50, told the Herald-Sun. Meyer added that the struggle applies to not only the autistic but also "children and adults with acute mental health needs."

"We need to have more money from the state budget to build psychiatric care facilities, because we don't have enough available," he said.

Barron and Harrison were given a list of 20 hospitals in North Carolina that help children and others in crisis situations, but "it's a long waiting list" to get in, Barron said.

While Barron and Harrison were able to take time off work to be with their son, Barron says she knows other parents of autistic children who have had to quit their jobs because of long waiting lists.

"There are not enough crisis beds for kids or adults," with autism or other disorders, David Laxton, director of communications for the Autism Society of North Carolina, told the Herald-Sun. "We're a growing state. You add more people, and it just doesn't meet the demand."

"How much can you do in 200 hours?" Barron wrote on her blog post. "How long would you last in a polyester smock and hospital food and people prodding you and poking you and asking you the same questions over and over again?... How much longer do we wait for our country to fix this problem? As these kids lose trust in the system, as their families struggle to work and balance, as we wait until something irreparable happens."


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