Lawmakers ask for federal probe of Nevada busing scandal

05/01/2013 12:00 AM

02/04/2014 4:29 PM

Twenty-one California lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday 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.

The number of psychiatric patients bused out of Nevada grew 66 percent from calendar year 2009 to 2012. During that period, Nevada slashed its mental health spending by 28 percent to address state budget deficits.

Among the patients shipped out of state was James Flavy Coy Brown, 48, 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 no longer would 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 another state "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.

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