By his fourth week waiting for help in the emergency room, Zachary Chafos’s skin had turned pale white from lack of sun.
His mother, Cheryl Chafos, bathed her autistic teenage son daily in the ER’s shower, trying to scrub the sickly pallor off him. His father, Tim Chafos, held the 18-year-old’s hand, trying to soothe his son’s pain and confusion over what was happening.
They’d brought Zach to Howard County General Hospital on Nov. 12, 2020, amid a severe mental crisis. All his life, he’d been the joyful center of their family. But after months of pandemic isolation, Zach had become uncontrollably angry and begun physically assaulting his parents and his younger brothers.
Now he and his parents found themselves in medical purgatory, waiting for psychiatric treatment that never seemed to arrive. Every day, Zach’s case manager in the ER would call to see if a psychiatric bed had opened up. Every day, the answer was no.
In the state of Maryland, there are roughly 1,040 licensed psychiatric beds for adults in general and private hospitals and another 240 for children and teens. The majority are almost always full.
After 48 days in ER, he finally got a bed in a neuropsychiatric unit. Ten days later, he was dead. The death certificate listed an epileptic seizure.