California Forum

Editorial: Feds need to probe Nevada's busing of mentally ill patients

Nevada's practice of busing patients with mental illness to all corners of the country is reprehensible. The response is not much better.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg last month called on U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to investigate after The Bee wrote about one individual, James Flavy Coy Brown, who was bused to Sacramento even though he had no connection to the city.

Sebelius needs to respond – especially after The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, Phillip Reese and Jim Sanders used Nevada's open records law to obtain receipts showing in a report last week that Nevada sent more than 1,500 individuals by Greyhound from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas to every state in the Lower 48.

As is its practice, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tasks states with authority to investigate themselves. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval finally uttered a public statement about the busing last week, telling a reporter for KSNV in Las Vegas that Nevada had done an investigation of Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, on behalf of the federal government. That report is under review.

While it released bus receipts, Nevada adhered to privacy law by not identifying the 1,500 patients subjected to Greyhound Therapy between mid-2008 and the first week of March. As a result, it's impossible for the public to know how many were dumped.

But Hubert and her partners on the story documented that Brown, a 48-year-old man who suffers from mental illness, was not unique. San Francisco mental health officials told The Bee that they complained to federal authorities that two Rawson-Neal patients arrived by bus but had no connection to San Francisco.

If three patients were dumped, what makes anyone think there aren't four or 10 or dozens more? The federal government has the ability to find out. If there is a pattern, the feds ought to pursue a civil rights case.

Nevada state health authorities – people who are legally and ethically responsible for the care of individuals who cannot care for themselves – claimed that they were doing patients favors by buying them bus tickets back to their hometowns and reuniting them with family and friends.

That's probably true in some instances. But the claim is disingenuous.

If they truly had the interests of the patients at heart, Nevada health officials would have contacted mental health authorities in locales that were receiving the patients. No mental health official in any city, county or state contacted by The Bee had heard of Nevada's practice of busing mentally ill patients – unescorted, no less.

Sandoval, thought to be one of the Republican Party's rising stars, has not acquitted himself well. When the Las Vegas television reporter caught up with Sandoval and asked about the "policy" of busing patients, he pushed back by saying, "I disagree with the premise of the question."

Exactly what Sandoval disagrees with is not clear. Nevada long has had a written policy to bus patients to their home states. The policy stated that one of its goals was to relieve the "burden" on Nevada taxpayers of the patients' care, though the state dropped the word "burden" from a revised policy after The Bee quoted from it.

"If there is a problem, we're going to correct it," Sandoval told the reporter.

Mr. Sandoval, you've got a problem. You need to correct it. Secretary Sebelius, you need to make sure he does.


For full coverage of Nevada's busing of patients, with an interactive map and photo gallery, go to