Published Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 8:42 a.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 6:39 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is conducting a hearing Valentine’s Day on the practice known as patient dumping, which could put a federal spotlight on a Nevada scandal involving the practice.
The commission announced the hearing this week, expressing concern about the “extent to which patients with a psychiatric disability are denied adequate care and whether there has been systematic neglect of this group.”
The commission will investigate whether a lack of funding, poor hospitals or noncompliance with federal laws is to blame for a practice that patient advocates say is happening across the country — and particularly in Nevada.
Last year, the Sacramento Bee disclosed that Nevada sent thousands of poor, homeless and mentally ill patients it was supposed to care for to California. Though Gov. Brian Sandoval has defended Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, the state hospital at the center of the allegations, the reports nonetheless precipitated lawsuits from the city of San Francisco and from James Brown, a patient who says he personally experienced being "dumped" across state lines.
Though the hearing notice does not mention Nevada, Nevada ACLU Legal Director Staci Pratt has been invited to testify. The Nevada ACLU is representing Brown in his case against the state hospital.
Pratt said it was "clear to me that, certainly, the Rawson-Neal case was part of the impetus for calling this hearing."
"I believe it may be occurring in psychiatric hospitals across the country," Pratt continued, explaining her motivation to testify. She added that fixing the problem "takes a different level of commitment to enforcement than what we've seen previously," suggesting "true federal oversight and meaningful intervention in an early phase, which did not take place in Rawson-Neal."
Sandoval's office disputes the assessment, saying the state has taken ample oversight and intervention measures, such as bringing in outside evaluators, hiring 23 additional staff members, increasing the number of beds available to treat patients at Rawson-Neal, and creating by executive order the statewide Behavioral Health and Wellness Council, which had its inaugural meeting this week.
"Nevada is committed to ensuring that vulnerable members of society are treated with dignity and care. As I have stated before, improperly discharging one patient is one patient too many," Sandoval said in a statement provided to the Sun. "Nevada remains committed to ensuring we provide the best care possible to those who need it most in our society."