California lawmakers call for broader patient-dumping investigation

The pressure on Nevada over allegations of cross-border dumping of mental patients grew Tuesday with a call from a group of California lawmakers for a broader federal investigation.

Twenty-one members of the California congressional delegation, all Democrats, signed the letter, which asks both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate whether any federal laws were violated by Nevada, the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services or the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas.

“If this practice of shipping patients with a history of mental illness to other states, known colloquially as “Greyhound Therapy,” is occurring, it is not only unethical and disgraceful, but may also be an illegal attempt by Nevada to evict members of the state’s most vulnerable population to benefit its bottom line,” reads the letter, which is led by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.

The letter also asks that federal agencies report back with full findings or an update within 30 days.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said her California colleagues last week in Washington, D.C., let her know the letter was coming. The situation “certainly does not help Nevada’s reputation,” she said Tuesday.

Titus represents Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, where Rawson-Neal hospital is located. Last week she wrote a letter asking for more information about the brewing scandal to Mike Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Humans Services.

“You just can’t treat people like that,” she said. “They are the most vulnerable.”

In the letter, Titus asks the state Department of Health and Human Services to “keep her fully informed about the steps that Rawson-Neal is taking to address these serious concerns.”

In an interview Tuesday she said, “I want to be a part of the solution.’’

Titus said she is concerned about the potential of Nevada losing federal funding because of patient dumping. She said mental health in the state needs to be more of a priority than it has been in the past, especially because mental health issues have been on the national spotlight lately.

Titus said Willden needs to review the budget for his agency and see whether there is a way to pour more funding into mental health.

A state review of 1,473 cases where patients were bused out-of-state in the past five years found 10 that may have involved an improper discharge. Only one case found to date can be classified as “patient dumping.” In that case, a man who was not from Sacramento, Calif., was sent there with no one waiting for him and no plan for treatment at his destination.

On Monday, two Rawson-Neal employees were fired, and three others will receive lesser discipline, for their roles in the 10 cases. Nine employees were involved in improper patient discharges. In addition to those terminated or disciplined, four no longer are employed at the hospital.

Late last week, the hospital was given 10 days by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to correct “serious deficiencies” in its mental health discharge policies or face a loss of federal funding.