The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services hosted a mental health town hall in Forsyth County Thursday night. 

Many attendees raised concerns about the state’s lack of services. 

The first woman to speak shared that her daughter was in a Virginia hospital because there was nowhere for her to go in North Carolina.

“There's no services available, sir,” she said, addressing NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley. “What's the point of early detection if there's no doctor, there's no clinician, there's no social worker? Who is treating these children that are sitting six to 12 months, needing fairly acute care?” 

Parents, grandparents, and psychologists raised the issue multiple times over the two-hour meeting. 

Sen. Jim Burgin agreed that the state has a “huge deficit.” 

“We're the ninth most populous state, we’re the second fastest growing state, we were ranked the best state to do business,” he said. “So there's something wrong with all of this. You know, we need to be number one in health care, number one in mental health care, number one in child care. And that's what we're trying to do.”

Burgin said he’d be introducing a bill in the coming weeks that would require the state to pay for 10 psychiatrists and 10 primary care physicians every year, but acknowledged that it wouldn’t be enough.

According to an NCDHHS report, there are nearly 300 beds in inpatient state psychiatric facilities that can’t be operated due to staffing shortages. That leaves more than 50 children sleeping in emergency departments, or EDs, every week. 

A local pediatric psychologist attested to this at the town hall. 

“I as a provider, experience amazing ethical dilemmas because I will have children that are acutely suicidal, and we know they're acutely suicidal, and we have nowhere to put them,” she said. “And so do we put them in the ED for six months sometimes waiting on a bed? Or do we send them home knowing that they might come back, and in some cases, they've come back in 12 hours with a significant overdose.”

Gov. Roy Cooper released a plan last week to spend $1 billion addressing the state’s mental health crisis.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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