Editorials

Will Nevada ever do the right thing and pay for the mental health patients it dumped?

Lead plaintiff James Flavy Coy Brown, second from right, talks during a news conference at ACLU headquarters in Las Vegas in 2013 about a class-action lawsuit against the state of Nevada for busing psychiatric patients out of state.  A civil jury decided Nov. 1  in favor of Brown.
Lead plaintiff James Flavy Coy Brown, second from right, talks during a news conference at ACLU headquarters in Las Vegas in 2013 about a class-action lawsuit against the state of Nevada for busing psychiatric patients out of state. A civil jury decided Nov. 1 in favor of Brown. AP

Nevada officials should admit fault, cut their losses and pay up for their disgraceful dumping of mental health patients.

Instead they’re choosing to continue a pattern of denial and stonewalling that has made this shameful chapter even worse. The state will likely appeal last week’s verdict in a class-action lawsuit, in which a jury found that it must pay $250,000 to each patient it discharged and shipped away on buses.

It was an investigation by The Sacramento Bee in 2013 that uncovered what became known as “Greyhound therapy.” Between 2008 and 2013, Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas — Nevada’s primary psychiatric hospital — bought bus tickets for about 1,500 patients.

About a third ended up in California, but at least one went to every state in the continental United States. Some became homeless, some committed crimes and some died.

The award-winning coverage by Cynthia Hubert and Phillip Reese was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Dan Morain, then a member of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, wrote a series of columns about the scandal, including ones pointed at Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

After The Bee’s reporting, Rawson-Neal lost its accreditation. Two employees were fired and three others were disciplined after an internal investigation found that 10 patients had been bused out without any family or a support system at their destinations. The governor stopped the practice to avoid losing federal funding, and Nevada says it no longer buses patients out of state without staff accompanying them.

The state was then hit by lawsuits over patient dumping. San Francisco settled for $400,000 in 2015, but this class-action case could prove far more costly.

It was filed by civil rights attorney Mark Merin on behalf of James Flavy Coy Brown, whose journey started The Bee’s investigation. He was given only peanut butter crackers and nutritional supplements for the 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Sacramento, ran out of medication to treat his schizophrenia and depression, and said he was told to call 911 when he arrived. He ended up suicidal at a complex for homeless people in Sacramento, a city where he had never been and didn’t know anyone.

The jury heard from Brown during the three-week trial. Because of a statute of limitations, only patients put on buses after June 2011 are eligible to claim part of the jury award. About 370 patients in the class have been identified so far, so the total damages could exceed $9 million.

Nevada officials appear to be putting money ahead of patients yet again. It was no coincidence that the increase in psychiatric patients being shipped out coincided with deep cuts in the state’s mental health services budget.

Now, by dragging out the lawsuit, patients will have to wait for money that could change their lives, once again made even more difficult by Nevada’s cold-hearted treatment.

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