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Governor responds to ‘patient dumping’ allegations

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday said Nevada is not dumping mentally ill patients on other states, countering California accusations that the Silver State has bused hundreds of troubled people out of state with no support.

Sandoval said he was told in early March about one case of patient dumping, involving a homeless man bused from Las Vegas to Sacramento, Calif., where he knew no one. As a result, Nevada launched three investigations to determine why the state’s discharge policies weren’t followed for James F. Brown and disciplined those involved, he said.

The state’s Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital put in place new policies to ensure no discharge mistakes happen again, requiring the hospital administration to approve all out-of-state transportation for released patients.

“Let me be clear, improperly discharging one patient is one patient too many,” Sandoval said in a statement, his first addressing patient dumping. “I take the concerns regarding Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital very seriously, and it is not the policy of the state of Nevada to engage in ‘patient dumping’ as (has) been alleged. Rather, patients have a right, and a desire, to return home to their friends and families.”

Sandoval’s statement came a day after the city attorney in San Francisco opened an investigation into Nevada’s practice of busing discharged mentally ill patients out of state, including 500 to California in the past five years.

Nevada officials maintain that the majority of patients transported out of state upon their release from Rawson-Neal have requested return to their home states, family and friends for further treatment.

Nevada is reviewing all 1,508 cases of transporting patients by bus since July 1, 2008, to determine how many patients came from which states and to determine whether they were properly discharged.

A state investigation already discovered two other unsafe discharges with Brown during February.

Sandoval, in defending his administration’s actions after the Brown case, said he has received regular briefings from Mike Willden, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services. Sandoval said he also toured Rawson-Neal in Las Vegas last Friday and spoke extensively with the hospital administrator.

“My administration has been and will continue to be open and transparent on whatever the findings of these investigations are,” Sandoval said. “The state of Nevada has taken extra steps to ensure that when a patient is discharged, there is a proper plan in place. Rawson-Neal is safe, modern, and has a five-star accreditation.”

“Further, I know it is the goal of the health care professionals at Rawson-Neal to provide the best care possible,” he added. “I am confident that with the new strengthened discharge procedures in place, Rawson-Neal will continue to treat all patients with dignity and a high standard of care.”

The governor briefed Nevada legislative leaders on Monday on the ongoing investigations.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she doesn’t see a need for the Legislature to act yet. She also defended the state’s handling of mentally ill patients.

“I believe that as all the facts come out that you will probably see that we have being doing our jobs and making sure that folks get where they need to and get the treatment that they need,” she said.

The Nevada Democratic Party, however, has attacked Sandoval, who is running for re-election in 2014.

In response to Sandoval, the party said Tuesday it was disappointed it took the governor a month to issue a statement “that again defends the facility.”

“The governor’s statement misleads Nevadans by implying there was no policy of busing patients out-of-state when there is, in fact, a written policy still in place to this day,” the Democratic Party said in a statement. “Gov. Sandoval needs to fess up to Nevadans what his 2011 budget proposal already made clear — helping Nevadans with serious mental illnesses is not his priority.”

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.

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