ACLU backs ‘patient dumping’ suit

LAS VEGAS — Allegations that Nevada has for years sent psychiatric hospital patients to cities outside the state have generated a federal civil rights lawsuit by a man who alleges he was given a one-way bus ticket in February to Northern California, where he arrived without money and identification in a city where he didn’t know anyone and had never been.

The 20-page complaint seeks class-action status in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas against the practice dubbed “patient dumping.”

“It’s unfortunate that litigation is required to ensure that patients aren’t given ‘Greyhound therapy,’” Allen Lichtenstein, American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada general counsel, said Wednesday.

“Simply placing people on buses to destinations where they know no one and have no means of getting necessary psychiatric, medical and even personal care is both improper and illegal,” he said.

The ACLU and a Sacramento, Calif.-based lawyer, Mark Merin, filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of James Flavey Coy Brown and nearly 1,500 other people they claim were bused since 2008 to almost every state in the country.

Defendants are six state agencies including the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the Division of Mental Health and Development Services and the Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance, plus eight individual hospital and state agency administrators.

State officials reached Wednesday didn’t immediately comment about the case.

The lawsuit makes nine claims, including negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. It seeks an immediate court order to stop Nevada from sending psychiatric patients out of state, unspecified damages for Brown and others, and a declaration that patients’ civil rights were violated.

Brown, 48, had been admitted Feb. 9 to Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas with a diagnosis of psychosis, hearing voices and thoughts of suicide, according to the lawsuit. It says a psychiatrist ordered him discharged Feb. 13 and he was taken to a Greyhound bus station where he was given a pre-paid ticket to Sacramento, bottles of a liquid nutritional supplement and three days of anti-psychotic medication.

He arrived “homeless, confused and anxious” in Sacramento after a 15-hour bus ride. After a day on the streets, Brown arrived at a hospital emergency room where officials found him space at a psychiatric hospital.

He has since been reunited him with his daughter, Shotzy Brown Harrison.

Lichtenstein and Merin point in the complaint to a Sacramento Bee investigation that found Brown and hundreds of other patients from the state’s Rawson-Neal bused to cities where they had no family, no friends, no contacts and no firm housing arrangements.

The newspaper reports spurred investigations by federal and Nevada state officials, denials by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval of systematic wrongdoing, and assurances that staff members who violated discharge policies had been fired.

Sandoval is not named in the complaint. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to messages.

The Rawson-Neal facility is the only state adult psychiatric hospital in southern Nevada, a region with about 2 million of Nevada’s 2.7 million residents. The facility opened in 2006 with 190 beds, following years of complaints that mentally ill people were clogging emergency rooms at for-profit hospitals in and around Las Vegas. Administrators acknowledged at the time that many more beds were needed.

An April 29 summary prepared by a state Health and Human Services spokeswoman in response to the patient dumping allegations reported that 31,043 people were admitted to Rawson-Neal during a five-year span, and that 1,473 patients were provided bus transportation out of the state. Of those, state officials identified 10 cases where documentation was insufficient to determine whether staff had confirmed the patient had family or a support system waiting for them.

While Sandoval announced new policies had been implemented, city attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco said they were launching criminal investigations.

In a May 23 report that on Rawson-Neal policies and practices, two medical consultants who spent a week at the hospital called Las Vegas “a magnet city that attracts visitors from all over the United States.”

They called decisions to send psychiatric patients to home states “a kindness to them and to their families,” but noted that in some cases it didn’t appear that adequate follow up arrangements were made.


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