A Las Vegas jury on Thursday unanimously decided in favor of mentally ill people who were cast out of a Nevada psychiatric hospital and bused across the country without proper care or planning.
The Clark County jury decided that each participant in the class-action lawsuit is entitled to $250,000, said Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of patients.
The panel also said Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, the state’s primary facility for mentally ill people, must revise its discharge policies to ensure that patients are safely transferred in the future.
“I’m so very happy for these patients,” Merin said, minutes after the verdict was announced, “This is one of the high points of my career.”
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Merin filed the lawsuits on behalf of James Flavy Coy Brown, whose bus trip took him to Sacramento, and potentially hundreds of others who had similar experiences.
The Sacramento Bee documented Brown’s story beginning in 2013. Subsequent investigations by the newspaper found that Rawson-Neal regularly discharged homeless patients using “Greyhound therapy,” sometimes to places where they had never been and had no ties.
During the long ride to Northern California, Brown had rationed the peanut butter crackers and Ensure nutritional supplements that a staff member at the mental hospital had given him, along with his discharge papers and a bus ticket to Sacramento. His food was gone, and he was nearly out of the medication to treat his array of mood disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
According to a state investigation, Brown spent 72 hours in the hospital’s observation unit before a doctor discharged him to a Greyhound bus to Sacramento. The discharge orders noted he should be given a three-day supply of Thorazine, Klonopin and Cymbalta to treat his schizophrenia, anxiety disorder and depression, plus “Ensure and snacks for a 15-hour bus ride.”
Brown wound up homeless in the capital city after arriving by bus. No prior arrangements had been made for his care or housing. He told police he was advised by the Nevada psychiatric hospital to “call 911” when he arrived in the capital city.
The Bee found that Brown’s experience was not an isolated one. The newspaper discovered that Rawson-Neal bused roughly 1,500 patients out of Nevada between 2008 and 2013, a third of them to California. Some of the patients, The Bee documented, became homeless and went missing after their bus trips. Some died tragically. Some committed serious crimes in their new cities.
In March, the court ruled that Brown and others could group together to pursue damages against Rawson-Neal, Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, which oversees the hospital, and various treatment professionals.
Rawson-Neal denied that it routinely sent patients to other cities without planning for their welfare, but federal and state investigations confirmed other cases in addition to Brown’s. The hospital has said that it no longer buses people out of state without chaperones.
The Bee’s stories about the busing scandal won several national journalism awards, and were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. In the wake of The Bee’s reports, Rawson-Neal lost its accreditation and its treatment protocols have been the focus of ongoing reviews by state and federal agencies.
Brown, now living in North Carolina, said in March that he never imagined that his case would have drawn national attention, nor that it would still be moving through the legal system after so many years.
“I feel good that it’s going ahead,” Brown said. “I almost gave up on it, for sure. I got to the point where I felt that everybody had forgotten about me.”