Judge, officer: Las Vegas needs more money for mental health care

CARSON CITY — A judge and a police officer said Wednesday that Southern Nevada spends far too little money to provide sufficient services for the mentally ill and the 2015 Legislature needs to make proper funding of mental health its priority.

At one point, Clark County District Judge William Voy even suggested the state consider closing the 86-bed Lakes Crossing forensic center for the criminally mentally ill in Sparks and creating a similar facility in Las Vegas.

Eighty percent of the Lake’s Crossing patients are from Clark County, and Metropolitan Police Department officer Chuck Callaway said it costs his department $6,300 for each trip it takes to transfer inmates there. At Lake’s Crossing, mental health officials determine the legal competency of people to stand trial for crimes.

Voy called the situation in Southern Nevada “desperate” with 180 people waiting in emergency rooms Jan. 30 for space to open for them in the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital. He added that while 46 beds for forensic patients are scheduled to open in the now-closed Stein Hospital near Rawson-Neal in August 2015, that’s half of the need.

Callaway, the department’s director of governmental services, said 40 inmates in the Clark County Detention Center are waiting for openings at Lake’s Crossing. Wait times are about 50 days.

“I congratulate the Northern Nevada hospitals for the awards they win, but Southern Nevada has been in flames for the last 20 years,” said Voy during a hearing of the Legislature’s Committee on Health Care.

“We need a Southern Nevada forensic facility,” Callaway added

Neither he nor Callaway gave figures on how much more should be spent on mental health.

During the meeting, Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong almost bragged about having reduced crime by 10 percent and jail admittance by 22 percent through a program that starts treatment of mentally ill in jail and then continues it in local facilities after they are released.

“How do we scale it up to Las Vegas?” asked state Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the committee.

But Joseph McEllistrem, the psychologist who runs the program, said it would be difficult to replicate in a large county, and that Carson City, population 55,000, is just the right size.

“We are doing things very well in the north,” added Lt. Eric Spratley of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department.

He spoke of teams of officers who go into the community to assist the mentally ill before there is a need to arrest them.

Jones said the state has purchased land off Interstate 15 north of Las Vegas for a forensic hospital but never taken action to construct it because of the recession.

He also questioned whether mental health services were ignored during the time of rapid population growth in Southern Nevada.

Voy estimated 10 percent of the population is mentally ill, and the percentage might be higher in Las Vegas because of its 24-hour culture.

“We are so lacking in services it is unacceptable,” he said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter at @edisonvogel.