Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Brian Sandoval should stop spinning and seriously improve Nevada’s mental health system

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval says he is taking seriously his state’s deficient mental health care system. Finally.

On Monday, he announced he has signed an executive order establishing a committee to analyze and improve Nevada’s mental health care system.

On Friday, Sandoval said through a spokeswoman that he was “appalled” patients bused out of Nevada had committed crimes, and that an “investigation is underway.” The words are fine. Deeds would be better.

Nevada has stopped busing patients unescorted. A few staffers at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital were disciplined or fired. But nine months after The Bee first wrote about the practice, top officials and administrators under whose watch the busing policy was carried out remain on the job.

Worse, Sandoval has shown himself to be incurious about the fate of the patients. Perhaps, we now know why. On Sunday, The Bee detailed how reckless Nevada’s policy was of busing Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital patients from Las Vegas to all corners of the country.

Having obtained the names of 1,000 of the 1,500 bused between 2008 and early this year, The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert and Phillip Reese found numerous instances in which ex-patients committed crimes after getting off the buses.

Among the more troubling findings, Nevada apparently bused as many as 50 patients out of state who had criminal charges pending against them in Clark County, Nevada. Helping individuals flee criminal charges is called accessory after the fact; it’s a crime.

Nevada, like many states, long has shirked its responsibility to care for severely mentally ill people. But the Silver State also went to an extreme by busing its problems to other states.

In its written policy, Nevada claimed its goal was twofold: to help out-of-town patients get home, and “to remove the burden of treatment from the State of Nevada.” If the practice ever was humane, Nevada ultimately began emphasizing the goal of removing the burden of caring for the individuals.

After The Bee’s initial stories about Nevada’s patient dumping, Sandoval hired “experts” to conduct what he claimed was an independent investigation. In May, those supposed experts praised the care at Rawson-Neal and said busing patients to their home states was “a kindness to them and to their families.”

We doubt the family of Eric Naylor believes Nevada was being kind by busing Joseph Ceretti to Des Moines in May 2012. After several run-ins with the law, Ceretti stabbed Naylor to death in November 2012, and faces 45 years in an Iowa state prison.

A newspaper doesn’t have the ability to look at all 1,500 patients. But Nevada knows whom it bused, and has their Social Security numbers and other identifying information. If it were so inclined, Nevada could contact authorities in locales where they were dumped and find out at least whether they are in the criminal justice system. But Nevada might risk liability.

Just as San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has sued Nevada to recover the cost of caring for people bused to San Francisco, so might Iowa seek compensation for the cost of housing Ceretti. Authorities elsewhere dealing with Nevada’s problems might do the same.

For years, experts in and out of Nevada have decried its dismal mental health care system. Nevada spends $80 million less now on that system than in 2007.

So far, Sandoval has been minimizing the problem and seeking to whitewash it. We remain skeptical that he will confront his state’s neglect of mentally ill people, and fix the system.

Gov. Sandoval, prove us wrong. Please.