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Mother risks losing custody of son with autism if they leave UPHS-Marquette Emergency Department

Ginnie Killough

Fourteen days.

That’s how long Ginnie Killough and her son Alexander have been living at the emergency department at UPHS-Marquette.

Al is 31. He has autism. For 13 years he’s been living at home with the assistance of Community Living Supports and home help, and two weeks ago he had a behavioral episode. Ginnie, a Marquette resident, says that’s not unusual for people with autism. Al was taken by ambulance to the hospital’s emergency department and put in a 10x10 room.

That’s when the staffing agency withdrew its services. Ginny was told it was due to the agency’s inability to find staff and Al’s increasing behavioral needs.

“I feel like the staff were not being supported and Alexander was not being supported with appropriate psychological services for his condition. During COVID, that got worse,” she says.

Community behavioral health agency Pathways says Al needs to have a psychiatric evaluation downstate, but there are no available beds, and there’s no place to do it in the Upper Peninsula.

And that’s when the state stepped in, telling Ginnie she needed to follow Pathways’ recommendation.

“Adult Protective Services says if I take him home, they will take me to court and try to take my guardianship away.”

So, she an Al continue to camp out in that 10x10 room at the emergency department. Tuesday, June 14 marks two weeks of hospital-made meals (which he doesn’t like), tidying up the cramped space, and reaching out to people who could possibly help.

“I want for common sense to take over and some reasonableness. He doesn’t need to be here; this is no place for him. He doesn’t belong here.”

Ginnie points out there’s a difference between mental illness and a developmental disorder.

“He doesn’t need a psych evaluation. He has autism, so we need to get the supports in place that he needs, here. And that will take care of the behavioral issues we’ve been having.”

The strangely wrapped gift of the situation, Ginnie says, is the intense bonding she’s experiencing with her son and a furthering of communication between them. She has hope—some days—and she’s willing to stay as long as it takes.

“I wouldn’t do anything that would endanger Al or my guardianship of Al. I hope it’s not going to be much longer—I hope for his sake—but every day he asks me, ‘Hospital sleep tomorrow? Hospital sleep tomorrow?’”

Ginny Killough says she’s always been aware state services for people with special needs is grossly underfunded and the safety net is nonexistent, but her situation has put it in a whole new light.

“I knew that before this happened, but this is graphic … and personal.”

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