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  • Renée C. Byer /

    Marc Berrier, 37, watches for Seattle homeless people who may want coffee and donuts during Union Gospel Mission’s morning watch program. Berrier, an alcoholic who was given a bus ticket to Seattle by Las Vegas hospital aides, has now graduated from an addiction recovery program.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Justin Brinsky was bused in 2012 to Sacramento, where he now awaits trial on charges that he attacked other inmates and officers at the jail.

  • Renee C. Byer /

  • Renee C. Byer /

    This is Marc Berrier, 37, center, waits in a line for dinner before an Alpha meeting on Monday November 17, 2013 in Bellevue, Washington. Berrier is one of the group leaders in the ten week course "How would you share your faith with others?'" at Westminster Chapel. Alpha is a course which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith. Berrier who was bused to Seattle where he knew no one from Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas, NV was an alcoholic and used to be homeless. He now has graduated from the addiction recovery program at the Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Marc Berrier, 37, right, approaches a homeless man living in a cardboard box to offer coffee and donuts during the Union Gospel Mission’s Morning Watch program. Berrier who was bused to Seattle where he knew no one from Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas, NV was an alcoholic and used to be homeless. He now has graduated from the addiction recovery program at the Seattle's Union Gospel Mission and goes out from 6am-9am every morning as part of their morning watch program to spread Christianity and pass out coffee and donuts to the homeless. In center is Jason Bennett an intern in the program.

  • Renee C. Byer /

    Marc Berrier, a former patient at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, listens during an Alpha meeting at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Wash. His fingers are tattooed to spell LUCK.

Nevada governor convenes special council to improve state’s mental health system

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 - 7:44 am
Last Modified: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 - 4:44 pm

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday announced the creation of a special council to review the state’s embattled mental health care system and offer recommendations for improvements.

The announcement followed a Sacramento Bee investigative report published Sunday that found numerous patients discharged from Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas to Greyhound buses bound for other states were later arrested at the destination cities for crimes that included murder, assault, theft, vagrancy and sex offenses.

A spokeswoman for Sandoval said Friday that the governor was “appalled” by the findings and would convene a panel to investigate. “Those responsible will be held accountable,” Sandoval said through his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner.

On Monday, Sandoval’s administration provided more detail about the panel. The new Behavioral Health and Wellness Council will be “comprised of members of the Legislature, law enforcement officials, national experts, and providers of behavioral health services in Nevada,” Sandoval said in a statement. It will “assist in closing gaps in services and offer policy recommendations to help improve the quality of life for those individuals living with behavioral health conditions.”

The council is to meet at least six times a year and submit reports to Sandoval twice a year, according to an executive order signed by the governor. The panel will be charged with issuing policy recommendations on delivery of care, public safety, substance abuse and other topics at mental health facilities, including Rawson-Neal, Nevada’s largest public psychiatric hospital.

Monday’s announcement marked the latest in a series of steps Sandoval has taken since the controversial busing program came to light. The Bee reported in April that Rawson-Neal had sent about 1,500 patients via Greyhound bus to destinations across the lower 48 states over the last five years, including about 500 to California. Patients typically were dispatched by taxi to a Las Vegas Greyhound station and put on buses, alone and sometimes heavily medicated, for journeys that in many cases spanned multiple states and several days.

Multiple former patients and their families have said the hospital bused patients across state lines without making arrangements for their treatment or housing, and often to cities where they had tenuous ties, or none at all.

Among those bused were Joseph Ceretti, arrested six months later in Des Moines, Iowa, after he stabbed a man to death; and Mark Hesselgrave, a convicted murderer who, three months after he was bused out of Las Vegas, stabbed a man in North Dakota. He remains in jail there awaiting trial on attempted murder charges.

Nevada bused yet another Rawson-Neal patient, a convicted child molester, to San Diego in 2011, even as he faced criminal charges in Las Vegas for failing to register as a sex offender. He also failed to register in San Diego, where he disappeared into the streets and soon became the target of a citywide manhunt.

In late April, after the extent of busing from Rawson-Neal became widely known, Sandoval pressed for changes. An internal investigation resulted in the firing of two staff members at Rawson-Neal, and the hospital revised discharge protocols to require that any patients bused out of state be accompanied by a chaperone. The number of patients bused – which last year hit a pace of well over one a day – has dwindled since that change went into affect.

In recent months, acknowledging that state budget cuts have taken a toll, Nevada elected officials have targeted $30 million in additional funding for mental health services, boosting outpatient programs aimed at treating mentally ill people in the community.

The state is remodeling a closed building on Rawson-Neal’s campus that will serve as a satellite facility to Lake’s Crossing in Reno, the state’s only mental hospital for criminals. In addition, the state has increased the number of beds available for inpatient care; established jail re-entry programs; and introduced home visiting programs for mentally ill patients, their families and the community.

Nevada state Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who has called for more attention to mental health services, said he welcomed Monday’s announcement. He said mental health care in the state is improving, but more resources are needed.

“You can’t just operate on bare bones forever,” he said.

Members of the new council will include the director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services; the administrator of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health; legislators; mental health services providers; law enforcement officials; and social services providers, according to the governor’s executive order.

The council will be divided into “regional subcommittees” to address mental health issues in different parts of the state, the governor’s office said.

Sandoval, through a spokeswoman, declined an interview request Monday.

Zach Hudson, communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party, said solving the state’s problems will require more fresh blood than a new advisory council.

“Governor Sandoval can create all the councils and additional layers of bureaucracy he wants, but until he holds someone accountable for a scandal that has jeopardized criminal prosecutions in Nevada and resulted in violent crimes in other states, the governor’s rhetoric is little more than window dressing,” Hudson said in a statement.

To see The Bee’s latest investigative report on Nevada’s patient busing program, go to

Call The Bee’s Phillip Reese, (916) 321-1137.

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