OUR VIEW: Feds must get answers from Nevada on busing mentally ill to other states

April 23, 2013 

Nevada's practice of busing patients with mental illness to all corners of the country is reprehensible. The response is not much better.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg last month called on U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to investigate after The Sacramento Bee wrote about one individual, James Flavy Coy Brown, who was bused to Sacramento even though he had no connection to the city.

Sebelius needs to respond, especially after followup reporting by The Sacramento Bee showed that Nevada sent more than 1,500 individuals by Greyhound from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas to every state in the Lower 48.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gives states the authority to investigate themselves. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval finally uttered a public statement about the busing last week, telling a reporter for KSNV in Las Vegas that Nevada had done an investigation of Rawson- Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, on behalf of the federal government. That report is under review.

While it released bus receipts to the newspaper, Nevada adhered to privacy law by not identifying the 1,500 patients subjected to Greyhound Therapy between mid-2008 and the first week of March. As a result, it's impossible for the public to know how many were dumped.

San Francisco mental health officials told The Sacramento Bee that they complained to federal authorities that two Rawson-Neal patients arrived by bus but had no connection to San Francisco.

If three patients were dumped, what makes anyone think there aren't four or 10 or dozens more? The federal government has the ability to find out. If there is a pattern, the feds ought to pursue a civil rights case.

Nevada state health authorities -- people who are legally and ethically responsible for the care of individuals who cannot care for themselves -- claimed that they were doing patients favors by buying them bus tickets back to their hometowns and reuniting them with family and friends.

That's probably true in some instances. But the claim is disingenuous.

If they truly had the interests of the patients at heart, Nevada health officials would have contacted mental health authorities in locales that were receiving the patients. No mental health official in any city, county or state contacted by The Sacramento Bee had heard of Nevada's practice of busing mentally ill patients -- unescorted, no less.

Nevada's governor has not acquitted himself well. When the Las Vegas television reporter caught up with Sandoval and asked about the "policy" of busing patients, he pushed back by saying, "I disagree with the premise of the question."

Exactly what Sandoval disagrees with is not clear. Nevada long has had a written policy to bus patients to their home states. The policy stated that one of its goals was to relieve the "burden" on Nevada taxpayers of the patients' care, though the state dropped the word "burden" from a revised policy after The Sacramento Bee quoted from it.

"If there is a problem, we're going to correct it," Sandoval told the reporter.

Gov. Sandoval, you've got a problem. You need to correct it. Secretary Sebelius, you need to make sure he does.

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