James F. Brown hopes the civil rights class action lawsuit filed late Tuesday afternoon over allegations of patient dumping by Nevada’s Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas will serve as a lesson — a lesson for Nevada and other states not to improperly discharge mentally ill patients.
“They (the hospital) thought they could get away with it,” Brown said while sitting with his daughter Tuesday night in their hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Las Vegas. “We have been victimized, and our civil rights have been violated. I know I suffered, and God knows other patients suffered.”
The lawsuit was submitted to U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by Mark Merin, a civil rights lawyer in Sacramento, Calif., and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
Rawson-Neal came under scrutiny after Brown, who, when discharged from the hospital this year, was bused to Sacramento, where he had no family or support waiting for him. Before being discharged, Brown was started on three psychotropic medications, which affect an individual’s thinking and judgment abilities, according to the lawsuit.
“They endangered our lives,” Brown said. “They might as well euthanize us. They might as well get rid of us.”
The lawsuit names a long list of defendants, including the hospital, several state agencies and state employees, such as Mike Willden, director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Brown and others who encountered similar hospital discharge experiences.
Brown’s case “unfortunately was not an isolated occurrence, which is why this is an action lawsuit,” Lichtenstein said.
After he shared his story, other patients came forward, Brown said.
“I’m glad that they came forward because this will tell the whole extreme of the story,” Brown said.
The lawsuit is intended to help prevent similar cases from happening, Lichtenstein said.
A news conference is scheduled at 11 a.m. today at the ACLU of Nevada’s office. Several people, including Brown, are expected to attend. More details about the lawsuit will be made public during the news conference.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, of 1,473 cases in which patients received an out-of-state bus ticket, 10 were insufficiently documented, making it difficult to know whether staff had confirmed there was support — such as family, friends and housing — waiting at the patient’s destination.
Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said officials won’t be able to comment until they review the lawsuit.
Jack Cheevers, spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the center’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit claims plaintiffs believe that of the nearly 1,500 patients discharged and sent out of state from Rawson-Neal between 2008 and 2012, more than 100 “were inappropriately and illegally discharged in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Nevada state law, and the institution’s own stated policies and procedures.”
Patients’ civil rights were violated after the hospital failed to ensure they were ready to be discharged and didn’t provide a discharge plan with information regarding follow-up care, according to the lawsuit. Negligence also is one of the claims of the lawsuit.
“Defendants negligently and or carelessly permitted the dumping of patients to another state, with no medical treatment and or viable plans for access to services,” the lawsuit says. “As a direct and proximate result of the negligence and carelessness of defendants, (Brown) and the members of the class have suffered extreme physical, emotional and mental distress.”
Brown’s daughter, Shotzy Brown Harrison, said she hopes her father will receive monetary compensation that will help with costs associated with the co-payments for his treatment.