The city of San Francisco is suing Nevada over a state psychiatric facility that allegedly dumped thousands of poor and homeless patients with mental illnesses onto buses with one-way tickets to states like California and told them to seek medical care there. City attorneys claim that the practice cost San Francisco $500,000 in public funds to house and treat patients who should have been receiving care at the Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital in Nevada, and that the lawsuit (which officials hope to make a class-action one) is meant to hold the state accountable in addition to reclaiming expenses.
“Homeless, psychiatric patients are especially vulnerable to the kind of practices Nevada engaged in, and the lawsuit I’ve filed today is about more than just compensation,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a statement. “It’s about accountability.”
Nevada officials replied that they would cooperate with Herrera’s investigation — but they say they won’t reimburse the city, since it has failed to demonstrate appropriate standing to represent the patients.
Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital’s “patient dumping” was exposed in an April investigation by the Sacramento Bee. The facility allegedly bused away about 100 patients with mental disorders to California between July 2012 and February 2013 alone, and may have systematically sent away as many as 1,500 patients over five years — many to places where they had no family and no contacts.
Doctors allegedly told patients that Nevada lacked sufficient funding for affordable housing and mental health care services — two critical aspects of the social safety net for protecting the indigent and mentally ill — and that they would have better luck seeking care elsewhere. Patients were reportedly discharged with nothing but two or three days’ worth of medication, some snacks, and a one-way bus ticket.
The revelations drew uproar from both local and federal officials. In April, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) warned Rawson-Neal that it would lose its federal Medicare funding if it didn’t change its practices and comply with all conditions of participation in the Medicare program, which include proper procedures for discharging patients.
Nevada officials have responded to the scandal by fortifying state mental health care funds and Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has made revamping Nevada’s mental health system a priority in the ensuing months. Sandoval proposed an additional $8 million in mental health funding in May — a stark departure from recent years, when Nevada made the fifth-largest cut to mental health appropriations of any U.S. state. The Nevada State Board of Examiners unanimously approved $3 million in new funding in August for Rawson-Neal to renovate a mental health hospital on its campus that will eventually hold an additional 58 beds.