U.S. Civil Rights Commission postpones hearing on patient dumping

WASHINGTON — A federal hearing this week on “patient-dumping” has been rescheduled to March because of a threat of bad weather in the nation’s capital.

The session of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights scheduled for Friday has been moved to March 14 “because of expected snowfall and its effect on air travel” that could impact out-of-town witnesses, an agency spokeswoman said.

The commission was due to be briefed by patient advocates, professors and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services on compliance with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, the federal law that requires hospitals to treat emergency cases regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, and makes it unlawful to discharge patients prior to stabilizing their conditions.

While there have been instances of patient dumping around the country, the hearing was organized in part following reports that officials at the state-owned Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas had given mentally ill patients one-way bus tickets with no guidance for care at their destinations.

The practice brought to light by a Sacramento Bee investigation prompted Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to initiate a series of disciplinary actions and policy changes at the hospital and led to the appointment of an 18-member commission to examine practices in the state’s mental health system

The National Weather Service issued a “winter storm watch” for Wednesday evening through Thursday evening with possible snow accumulation of 5 inches or more in the Washington area.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.