24 August 2013, 15:25

Nevada Psychiatric Hospital: 'They were busing people out as a way of saving money' - reporter

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For yearsRawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas routinely put mentally ill patients on buses bound for other states with little more than some food and a little medication. The Voice of Russia discussed this disturbing case with Phillip Reese, reporter at the Sacramento Bee newspaper, and David Levine, Professor at the University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

The idea, says reporter Phillip Reese at the Sacramento Bee newspaper, was to shift the problem and the expense.

“Nevada, like many other states, has seen a very large decrease in their budget. And as their budget decreased, the number of these patients being bused to other states has gone up. We talked to a former director of mental health services in Nevada and believes those two things were related. He believes that they were busing people out as a way of potentially saving money.”

Other mental health facilities in the US will bus patients to other cities, but only if there is a family member in place to care for them. That didn’t happen with many of the Las Vegas cases and Reese says the numbers are huge.

“Roughly, in the last five years they bused about 1500 patients to every state in the continental US. So, every state, except for Alaska and Hawaii. That number is very unusual. Sometimes we were told hospitals will bus patients to family members in other states, but it is rare.”

Reese uncovered the massive program when he became aware of just one man in his hometown of Sacramento.

“We came across a patient who was sent to Sacramento, California, in February. His name is James Brown. He had a variety of mental problems, including schizophrenia and other mood disorders. He had never been to Sacramento before. He had no family, no friends here, no real prospects for medical care, at least non-lined up. And he was very confused and when he made it to a local homeless shelter, he told the staff there that he was sent from this mental health facility in Las Vegas, Rawson-Neal, on a greyhound bus.”

Since the story broke several months ago Nevada officials have stopped the policy. In the meantime, the hospital has lost its accreditation and several staff members have been fired. But for cities like San Francisco the damage is already done. Now, City Attorney Dennis Herrera is threatening to sue Nevada if the state does not pay the city for services it provided for the two dozen mentally ill patients who were bused to San Francisco.

David Levine is a Professor at the University of California, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

“There is nothing wrong with sending somebody back to their home, back where you know there is a family who can take care of them. You know, they went but it didn’t work out for them, they went somewhere else and now they would like to go home – it seems to me fine. The problem here is sending people where they have no reason to go to a particular place, no support services, nobody knows they are coming.”

San Francisco is planning on seeking class-action status if it does sue. That would mean, the other cities, affected by the busing policy, could join one big lawsuit. Already, the Sacramento City Attorney has indicated he plans to join. But Prof Levine says San Francisco strategy could complicate the legal issues.

“I see that they want to perhaps represent all the jurisdictions in the state that allegedly had damage from this. And that makes the case a little bit more complicated because then the State of Nevada could come back and say – it shouldn’t be treated as a class-action, that each individual city and county is different, all the situations of the different patients who allegedly were sent improperly to California would be different and those cases are to handled on an individual basis.”

As for the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, Reese says they did offer up a defense for their policy.

“The officials at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital say that they draw a lot of people from other states, Las Vegas is an international sort of vacation destination and an international destination for people who want to sort of escape their lives. So, maybe they get more mentally ill people there than other places. And those people have a right to turn to their homes. So, they say that they are just facilitating them in that process. That was their explanation.”

But it now seems quite apparent that the hospital made a bad decision, both for its patients and for the bottom-line it was seeking to protect in the first place.

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