Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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Civil rights commission to host D.C. hearing on patient dumping

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will have a hearing today on an issue that has put Nevada in the spotlight since last year — patient dumping.

The commission will hear from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, as well as government officials and a variety of academics.

Although it did not single out Nevada, the commission has said the focus of the hearing is to examine “the extent to which patients with a psychiatric disability are denied adequate care and whether there has been systemic neglect of this group.”

In May 2013, federal inspectors found Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas was discharging patients without adequate plans to follow up with treatment once they reach their destinations. The patients were placed on buses and given enough food to last through the one-way trip, but they didn’t have adequate discharge plans.

Reports by the Sacramento Bee precipitated lawsuits from the city of San Francisco and from James Flavy Coy Brown, a patient who says he was sent by bus from Rawson-Neal to California.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has defended Rawson-Neal, the state facility at the center of the reports. And Nevada has been vindicated by at least one court: On Feb. 13, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Mahan rejected the lawsuit that claimed Brown's civil rights had been violated. Mahan ruled that the state had not forced Brown to leave the state — it had simply paid for his bus ticket.

That decision was rendered the day before the civil rights commission had been scheduled to hold the patient dumping hearing; it was postponed until today because of a snowstorm in Washington, D.C.

"We're going to refile," ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein told the Associated Press on Feb. 13. "The judge did not — repeat, did not — say Rawson-Neal (Psychiatric Hospital) was in the right and our client did not suffer. He didn't rule on the merits."

Nonetheless, the Nevada ACLU, represented by its legal director Staci Pratt, is expected to raise concerns and charges similar to those in the Brown case during the hearing.

Pratt said that even though the commission didn't cite Nevada and other parts of the country have been affected by this issue, it is “clear to me that, certainly, the Rawson-Neal case was part of the impetus for calling this hearing.”

Sandoval’s office has taken various measures since the allegations first surfaced, including bringing in outside evaluators, hiring additional staffers and increasing the number of beds available at Rawson-Neal. The hospital remains accredited at least through early April.

Information from Las Vegas Sun archives was used in this story.

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