SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nevada’s primary hospital for mentally ill people has bused hundreds of patients out of Las Vegas in recent years, with crime and tragedy often resulting in cities across the country, The Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.
The Bee’s investigation found receipts for one-way Greyhound tickets that listed the names of more than 1,000 people over the past three years.
The tickets were given to mentally ill men and women shortly after they arrived at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas. More than 325 of the patients boarded buses to California.
The newspaper found passenger names in criminal databases across the nation for arrests involving murder, assault, sex crimes, vagrancy, vandalism and other violations. Many of the crimes involved repeated offenses for minor violations often associated with homelessness.
The newspaper’s analysis also found more than 50 matches between names of mental patients bused out of Nevada and suspects facing criminal charges in Las Vegas. In most cases, proceedings in those cases were stopped cold and judges issued bench warrants for arrests of the suspects soon after the patients were bused.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in recent months has ordered additional funding for mental health services and reviews of the state’s mental health care system.
But his administration has also defended Rawson-Neal’s busing practices as safe and humane. On Friday, the governor said he was appalled by what The Bee had found in its investigation.
“An investigation is underway, and those responsible will be held accountable,” Sandoval said through his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner. “This type of conduct is indefensible.”
Kinner said the governor is assembling a panel of legislators, law enforcement officials and mental health experts to investigate Nevada’s mental health services.
The newspaper first reported on Rawson-Neal’s busing program earlier this year. Between July 2008 and April of this year, patients were typically sent by taxi to a Las Vegas Greyhound station and put on buses. The patients were usually alone and sometimes heavily medicated, and the trips sometimes took several days.
Nevada health authorities said in April that they would no longer bus patients across state lines without chaperones.
State officials have generally defended the decades-old busing program. They have said that the vast majority of patients were bused to their “home communities” and only after Rawson-Neal staff had contacted family at the destination and made arrangements for treatment and care.
But former patients and their families told a different story, saying the hospital made no such arrangements, and in some cases shipped former patients off to cities where they had tenuous ties or no ties at all.
Many of those interviewed by Bee reporters ended up at public hospitals or in shelters — essentially shifting the cost of their care to their destination cities.
Nevada health officials have explained the busing program by noting that Las Vegas is an international destination, and many visitors and transplants who suffer mental breakdowns welcome the offer of free travel.
“The general purpose of the policy has always been to help people with transportation back to their home community, or community of choice, where they have family, employment and/or mental health support,” Mary Woods, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said in a written response to The Bee.
Woods also noted that the state has revamped policies and procedures at Rawson-Neal since The Bee first reported on the busing.
“Those investigations resulted in termination of staff, strengthening of policies, and implementation of corrective action plans including increased scrutiny and oversight in our discharge practices, as well as the requirement for an accompanied chaperone,” Woods said.
Woods said the hospital doesn’t routinely do criminal background checks on patients, but will notify law enforcement about a pending discharge if an agency has made that request.