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Former patients file federal lawsuit over ‘patient dumping’ by Rawson-Neal

Riding a Greyhound bus on a two-day trip from Las Vegas to Flint, Michigan, Clorissa Porter didn’t have any food with her.

Her bus ticket was courtesy of officials at the state-run Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, who covered their patient’s fare after she did a two-day stay at the hospital. Strangers and fellow passengers shared meals with her before she arrived in Michigan with no one there to turn to for help.

The account is contained within the allegations in a federal lawsuit two former patients of the state-run hospital have filed over its practice of “patient dumping” — a practice that gained notoriety in 2013. The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday, seeks class-action status, so any ruling would apply to more than 1,500 former patients of the hospital.

The case’s allegations offer another window into patient dumping, a practice at Rawson-Neal in which officials put mental health patients on Greyhound buses and sent them out of the state on a one-way ticket without a treatment plan or adequate resources. An investigation by the Sacramento Bee first exposed patient dumping, prompting a state probe in 2013, the firings of two Rawson-Neal employees and an overhaul of discharge policies.

“There have been some changes, but we want to make sure that this cannot happen again,” said civil rights attorney Allen Lichtenstein, who is representing the plaintiffs.

The former patients in the lawsuit are Porter, 33, and William Spencer, 51, who were sent against their wishes to Michigan and California, respectively, according to the lawsuit.

Porter was admitted into Rawson-Neal on Jan. 7, 2013, suffering from depression and with a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Two days later, she was escorted from the hospital and put on a Greyhound bus to Flint with a four-day supply of medication, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants had planned for her to get treated at a program in Caro, Michigan, but hadn’t made any arrangements for her to get there from Flint, which is more than an hour’s drive away. Porter arrived in Flint with no money or way to get to the hospital and realized Rawson-Neal officials made no arrangements for her to receive medical care or obtain shelter or other help, the lawsuit contends.

A cousin in Las Vegas wired Porter money for food, and she suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a hospital that was unable to obtain her records from Rawson-Neal.

Spencer was admitted into Rawson-Neal severely depressed on Aug. 26, 2012. Within weeks, a doctor at the hospital told Spencer he had a one-way Greyhound ticket to Los Angeles and told him he should “call 9-1-1” for help when he was dropped off, the lawsuit alleges. Spencer, who had previously lived in Glendale, told the doctor he didn’t want to leave Las Vegas and return to California, the lawsuit alleges.

The doctor persisted, and on Sept. 20, 2012, Spencer was handed a bus ticket and three days’ worth of depression medication. Between 10 p.m. and midnight that day, he was escorted to a waiting taxi that took him to the bus station. The doctor at Rawson-Neal had told him he would be discharged to a residential aftercare facility in Pasadena, but no arrangements had been made, the lawsuit alleges.

After calling the Pasadena facility, Spencer learned they had not been contacted by Rawson-Neal and had no space, the lawsuit alleges. He quickly became homeless and suffered from panic attacks and anxiety, the lawsuit alleges. Relatives eventually helped him.

The lawsuit names a slew of defendants: Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, which operates Rawson-Neal; Chelsea Szklany, hospital administrator; Mike Willden, a former director of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, who is now chief of staff for Gov. Brian Sandoval; and Richard Whitley, administrator of Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Other defendants are Rawson-Neal associate medical director Loen Ravin; Kyle Devine, bureau chief of the Nevada Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance; Linda White, a statewide psychiatric medical director for Nevada; and psychiatrists Rao Puvvada and Jacob Manjooran.

A spokeswoman for Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services declined to comment, saying they haven’t been served with the lawsuit.

The governor’s office also declined to comment, as did the office of Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

The lawsuit seeks an order that would prevent patient dumping in the future, a judgment that the practice violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and punitive damages. The lawsuit also seeks a jury trial.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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