Governor aims to overhaul mental health system

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday said additional funding, with changes and expansion of services, will create a strong mental health system with quality care.

The Nevada State Board of Examiners during its meeting Tuesday unanimously approved $3 million in contingency funds to renovate the Stein Hospital, an old mental hospital on the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital campus, that would hold 58 beds.

“This isn’t a political issue for me,” Sandoval told the Review-Journal. “This is an issue of taking care of some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

The contingency funds still need final approval by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee during its Aug. 29 meeting.

The $3 million proposal came before the Board of Examiners after a separate proposal to renovate Stein Hospital in Las Vegas was tabled Aug. 6 by the Interim Finance Committee. Legislators were worried that approving that proposal would divert $3 million earmarked for projects deemed critical for patient safety at Lake’s Crossing, the state’s only maximum-security psychiatric facility.

Legislators asked state officials to come back with a different proposal.

Sandoval said he couldn’t speak for the Legislature, but he is hopeful the committee would support the request.

“They’ve been very supportive up until this time,” he said.

If approved by the Interim Finance Committee, the $3 million would help bring Stein Hospital back in operation. The hospital has been closed since June 2010. Forty-two of the 58 beds would be for court-ordered patients, and 16 would be available for other patients as an overflow from Rawson-Neal.

Rawson-Neal lost its accreditation and was hit with a federal lawsuit in the aftermath of allegations of patient dumping and improper record keeping earlier this year. The Las Vegas hospital came under scrutiny after it discharged James F. Brown, 48, to Sacramento, Calif., in February with no support or family waiting for him.

Lake’s Crossing, the state’s only center for evaluating the competency of offenders referred by the court system, is also under pressure. It was sued in June after court-ordered patients, mostly from Clark County, are having to wait weeks or even months in detention facilities before being admitted.

As part of a 2008 settlement agreement for a lawsuit filed by the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, the hospital is required to admit patients within seven days of the court order.

The Metropolitan Police Department contracts with Vision Holidays at North Las Vegas Airport to transport defendants to Lake’s Crossing for an annual cost of about $120,000, about $5,250 per round-trip flight. They usually transport patients twice a month.

A maximum-security psychiatric facility in Southern Nevada would help address the backlog of patients waiting to be transported and save the cost of transporting patients.

Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said the renovation of the Stein Hospital could be completed 18 to 24 months after the final approval of the funds. They include architectural, mechanical and pluming changes with security system improvements.

But Woods said additional funds to staff the hospital would be requested during the 2015 executive budget legislative session. Last week, lawmakers acknowledged more funding is needed for the state’s mental health system.

Sandoval pledges to continue to fund mental health services. Mental health services received $27 million more in funding this biennium compared with the previous biennium.

On Tuesday, the Board of Examiners also approved a $1 million contract for an expansion of internal medicine services at Rawson-Neal to address deficiencies cited by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The contract also needs final approval.

Late last week, the federal agency gave Rawson-Neal 10 days to create a plan of correction, or evidence of compliance, for several deficiencies identified during May and June inspections.

The hospital risks losing millions of federal funding if a plan is not accepted by the federal agency.

“I’m confident that as this process moves on, we’ll continue to address the issues that have been raised,” Sandoval said. “I have a personal commitment to this.”

Contact reporter Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.