California lawmakers call for probe of Nevada patient busing

04/30/2013 3:23 PM

02/04/2014 4:29 PM

Twenty-one California lawmakers today sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Attorney General calling for an investigation into Nevada's long-standing practice of busing mentally ill patients to other states.

The letter, initiated by Rep. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, states that "if this practice of shipping patients with a history of mental illness to other states, known colloquially as "Greyhound Therapy," is occurring, it would not only be unethical and disgraceful, but would also be an illegal attempt by Nevada to evict members of the state's most vulnerable population to benefit its bottom line."

The letter cites a Bee investigation that found that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada's primary hospital for the mentally ill, has bused about 1,500 patients out of southern Nevada since 2008, sending people to every state in the continental United States. Among them was James Flavy Coy Brown, a homeless, schizophrenic man who was bused to Sacramento two months ago despite having no ties or housing in the region.

Nevada state officials initially said Brown's case was an anomaly. This week, they said an internal investigation had identified 10 cases in which a patient may have been improperly bused to another state. Five employees have been disciplined in response to the findings, including two who were fired, according to a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. Last week, the state announced mentally ill patients would no longer be bused out of state without a chaperone.

The congressional letter says busing patients to other states may violate several laws, including federal requirements that hospitals must stabilize patients before discharging them and requirements that hospitals meet certain conditions before receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.

The letter also states that involuntary placement of a psychiatric patient on a bus to a random location "may constitute interstate kidnapping."

The letter asks Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to report any investigative findings to Congress within 30 days.

"Federal investigation is warranted here, particularly in light of admissions from Nevada officials that their own investigation found 'no pattern of misconduct,' the letter says.

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

Editor's note: Updated at 4:10 p.m. to correct number of legislators who signed letter, and to note that the letter was also sent to the U.S. Attorney General.

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