Busing Analysis

Editorial: Accreditation loss is a start for Nevada

Authorities are starting to take seriously Nevada's mistreatment of its most severely mentally ill residents, finally.

Last week, the Joint Commission, an independent accrediting entity, issued a preliminary denial of accreditation for Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas.

The decision came three months after The Bee disclosed that hospital administrators bought Greyhound tickets for 1,500 patients during a five-year period, and sent them to all corners of the continental United States.

On Thursday, Nevada Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden announced the facility would not appeal the denial. Willden's comment could be seen as acknowledging remorse on the part of Gov. Brian Sandoval's administration. But in fact, Willden implied the accreditation agency somehow was being unfair to Rawson-Neal.

Willden said Nevada would reapply for accreditation in the "near future when the hard work and great effort to improve services for our patients will be considered and recognized by the Joint Commission."

Nevada has stopped busing patients unescorted. However, the practice was a symptom of deeper problems in that state's system of care for mentally ill people, starting with underfunding and low pay.

A few staffers were disciplined or fired as details emerged of the busing. But top administrators who authorized the practice remain in place. Sandoval and the Legislature should bring in top-flight administrators who have experience running mental health care systems, and pay them accordingly.

The loss of accreditation could jeopardize sources of money for Rawson-Neal. Accreditation also conferred prestige. As the story unfolded, Sandoval made much of Rawson-Neal's accreditation, proclaiming in April that "Rawson-Neal is safe, modern, and has a five-star accreditation."

However, Rawson-Neal received that accreditation in 2010, at a time when the hospital routinely bused patients. That raises questions about whether inspectors studied discharge plans or inquired what became of patients who were sent on their way with bus tickets and a few bottles of Ensure.

The Bee's Cynthia Hubert and Phillip Reese found eight former patients. Seven had no one waiting for them at bus depots when they arrived, and none had discharge treatment plans. One patient never made it to his destination. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Sandoval, Nevada's Legislature, and voters should be haunted by the question of what became of the other 1,492 patients. If Sandoval is uninterested in reconciliation, Democrats who control the Legislature should exercise oversight authority to determine the patients' fate.

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