Busing Analysis

Other Views: Nevada must atone for patient dumping

A longer version of this editorial appeared Sunday in the Las Vegas Sun, at www.lasvegassun.com.

A damning series of stories published this year in The Sacramento Bee accuses Nevada of systematically dumping mental health patients on other states, particularly California. According to The Bee's analysis, the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas over the past five years discharged more than 1,500 patients to the Greyhound bus station with one-way tickets out of state.

The details of some of the cases are awful. Consider what happened to James Flavy Coy Brown, who had spent three days in the Las Vegas hospital being treated for schizophrenia and other mood disorders. He says he was told there was no place for him in Nevada and sent by taxi to the bus station.

Brown had a ticket to Sacramento, a few days' worth of medication, some crackers, bottles of Ensure and not much else. He didn't have identification, had never been to Sacramento and didn't have any friends or family there. He had no follow-up treatment plan besides a verbal instruction to call 911 when he arrived.

Thankfully, people in California were able to help Brown, and he eventually found a place in a halfway home.

Good for California.

Nevada, however, should be appalled and ashamed.

A state investigation into the allegations is ongoing, and so far state officials admit they "blew it" in Brown's case, but they don't think this is widespread. The state has given people one-way bus tickets and sent them packing, but state officials say the idea has been to reunite people with families and support networks back home.

As Mike Willden, director of Nevada Health and Human Services, puts it, Las Vegas is a "mental health magnet," and people from all over the world end up here without the support they need.

Logically, it would make sense to reunite people with their families, assuming the patients will find support when they arrive. But that's not what happened in Brown's case – his daughter lives on the East Coast – and there was nothing in place to help him. Brown's case is the picture of patient dumping.

State officials this past week said they have tightened procedures to make sure that anyone bused out of state has an escort, but the question still remains about how other cases were handled.

Perhaps Brown's case is an anomaly, and as proud Nevadans, we would like it to be so. Still, it's not difficult to understand why people would accuse Nevada of dumping mental health patients. The state, as a whole, has been negligent when it comes to mental health care, much less social services.

Was "Greyhound therapy" a way to ease an overcrowded system?

That would be a crass and cynical view that we hope isn't true, but Nevada's attitude toward the mentally ill has been awful. At best, it's an attitude of benign neglect; at worst, it's cold-hearted and mean. There's a prevailing belief that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and the taxpayers aren't responsible.

But what about the people who don't have the ability, means or support to pull themselves up? People such as James Flavy Coy Brown.

Nevadans need to do some soul searching. Brown's case and the allegations of patient dumping are symptoms of a state that has ignored problems and left the most vulnerable in jeopardy. That has to change.

The Bee's stories have left a deserved black eye on the state. Improving social services and mental health care are issues that won't win much applause, much less elections, but political and civic leaders have to take on the task. Nevada has to be better than this.