Federal probe sought of alleged 'dumping' of mental patient in Sacramento

03/05/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:41 AM

A California state lawmaker is calling for a federal investigation into the alleged "dumping" of a Nevada mental patient last month in Sacramento.

Hospital and health officials in Nevada, meanwhile, vowed to look into the circumstances surrounding the patient's release and issue a public report about what happened.

"We don't take this lightly at all," said Dr. Tracey Green, Nevada's state health officer.

The patient, James Flavy Coy Brown, 48, disappeared onto Sacramento's streets last month, a day after he arrived by Greyhound bus from Las Vegas, according to staffers at the Loaves & Fishes homeless services complex near downtown Sacramento. According to staffers who spoke to him, he said he had no family in Sacramento and had never visited the capital city.

Brown was frightened and confused when he arrived at the Loaves & Fishes complex on Feb. 13, staffer Molly Simones said. He carried his discharge papers from the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services psychiatric hospital and a schedule detailing his 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas.

The medical discharge papers, obtained by The Bee, ordered that Brown be taken "to the Greyhound bus station by taxi with 3 day supply of medication," including one drug to treat schizophrenia and another for depression.

Brown told Loaves staffers that he and four other patients were sent to the Las Vegas mental hospital a few weeks ago, after their group home shut down. Simones said Brown told her that, upon discharge from the hospital, he was given a bus ticket to Sacramento and told to call 911 when he arrived. Instead, he went to a local police station. She said he told her his four former housemates were shipped to other California cities.

After Sacramento police took Brown to Loaves, Simones gave him bus fare to UC Davis Medical Center. It is unclear whether Brown made it to the facility or to the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center across the street. "I just hope he's OK," Simones said.

California state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said he believes Nevada engaged in "patient dumping" by sending a mentally ill man to California without showing that he had relatives here or a place to get care.

Late Monday, Steinberg sent a letter to the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, accusing the Nevada facility of engaging in interstate "Greyhound therapy" and calling for an investigation.

Steinberg noted that the hospital is certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and accredited by the federal Joint Commission. Hospitals that violate regulations governing those programs risk losing critical federal funding.

"Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services has unequivocally failed to meet many of these conditions, including an evaluation of the patient's needs upon discharge, a standard discharge plan, and an appropriate arrangement for the patient's transfer to California," Steinberg wrote.

The hospital's handling of Brown's case "is a clear violation of the patient's civil rights, tantamount to abuse," he wrote. "It is imperative for the rights and future safety of patients that those responsible are held accountable."

Patient dumping has been the subject of several lawsuits in recent years. In one case successfully prosecuted by the Los Angeles Public Counsel, a hospital released an elderly woman still wearing her hospital gown onto the streets of that city's Skid Row.

California law prohibits such "dumping" of patients within the state, said Patrick Dunlevy, directing attorney of the counsel's Consumer Law Project.

If Nevada did, in fact, transfer Brown across state lines, the case likely would fall under the federal civil rights law, Dunlevy said. "Something like this is so outrageous, there have to be federal laws that do apply," he said.

Green, the Nevada state health officer, said the state does not practice patient dumping and is looking into the circumstances of Brown's release.

"We just do not let people go without a plan," Green said.

She said a report should be available to the public in about a month.

Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @cynthia_hubert. The Bee's Dan Morain, reporting from Las Vegas, contributed to this report.

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