Governor calls for special action to release funds to troubled Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital

Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling for special legislative action to speed up the release of already budgeted funds for additional improvements at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada officials said Wednesday afternoon.

The move came after the Joint Commission, an independent organization that accredits hospitals, issued a preliminary denial of accreditation for Rawson-Neal, which has been in the national spotlight for allegations of patient dumping.

Officials with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said they are not satisfied with the commission’s decision. Early last month, state officials even announced they expected to retain accreditation at Rawson-Neal.

“We are disappointed by the Joint Commission’s decision to move for a preliminary denial of accreditation, which appears to be based on outdated survey information and is not an accurate reflection of the hospital’s current practices and policies,” officials said in a statement.

State officials were in meetings Wednesday to determine how to proceed.

Rawson-Neal came under scrutiny in February for discharging James F. Brown, 48, to Sacramento, Calif., with no support or family waiting for him.

Officials from the Joint Commission in May twice visited the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, the agency that oversees Rawson-Neal.

Officials last visited the hospital July 2, according to the Accreditation Quality Report.

On July 18 , officials with the commission made the decision to change the hospital’s accreditation status to preliminary denial because the hospital was placing patients at risk by failing to comply with numerous standards for treatment and documentation, according to commission spokeswoman Elizabeth Eaken Zhani.

The decision on the hospital’s accreditation status was updated late Monday on the commission’s website.

The governor’s office on Wednesday afternoon requested a formal interim finance committee meeting to hasten the release of funds for additional improvements at the hospital, said Mary-Sarah Kinner, governor’s office spokeswoman.

“We are hopeful the Legislature will agree,” she said.

The money would be used to implement an existing plan of action from the state Department of Health and Human Services and to address other concerns at Rawson-Neal.

“The governor continues to evaluate the progress of Rawson-Neal,” Kinner said.

Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said $4 million had been set aside in the budget, but how much would be released to the hospital wasn’t available late Wednesday.

The preliminary denial of accreditation is issued when the accreditation committee determines there is justification to deny accreditation to a health care organization.

The hospital can appeal the decision before a final ruling on accreditation is made, Zhani said. If the appeal is denied, the hospital will have one final opportunity to appeal the decision.

If the appeal again is denied, the hospital would lose its accreditation. The appeal process takes four to six months, Zhani said.

However, she said, if Rawson-Neal lost its accreditation, it wouldn’t be forced to shut down. In most cases, hospitals need a license from the state to operate.

“Accreditation is voluntary,” Zhani said. “It’s not a requirement to operate.”

Jack Cheevers, spokesman with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, “Rawson-Neal wouldn’t necessarily lose its Medicare certification if the Joint Commission revokes its accreditation.”

State officials said in the statement that they have strengthened policies, changed processes, increased oversight and enhanced staff training at the hospital.

The hospital has undergone rigorous reviews by several entities over the past few months, and disciplinary actions have been taken against individuals who failed to follow hospital policies, officials said.

Two Rawson-Neal employees, both doctors, were fired this year, while three others were to be disciplined for their roles in 10 cases involving improper patient discharges. Nine employees in total were involved in improper patient discharges; four no longer are employed at the hospital.

Woods said late Wednesday that state officials were looking at different options as to how they will address the accreditation issue. The options include going through the appeal process, seeking accreditation later or seeking accreditation from another accrediting organization.

Regardless of what option they choose, officials plan to continue to keep the hospital operating, Woods said.

“It’s a good program that we have, and we definitely improved over the last couple of months,” she said.

The status of the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services agency’s behavioral health care program is accredited, according to the Joint Commission.

The hospital was investigated by several agencies, including the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission.

A plan of correction submitted by Rawson-Neal was accepted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but another investigation by the federal agency is pending.

Cheevers said officials have completed a full validation survey of Rawson-Neal, but officials are still reviewing the results.

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