EDITORIAL: Reopen Rawson-Neal clinic

If you think the state can put off fixing Southern Nevada’s shameful mental health system, you obviously haven’t visited a valley emergency room in the past month.

The mentally ill are filling emergency room beds needed for the acutely ill or injured, so much so that ambulances are being turned away by hospitals with increasing frequency. As reported last week by the Review-Journal’s Yesenia Amaro, the crisis is far worse than the one that triggered emergency state funding 10 years ago.

Dr. Dale Carrison, chief of staff and head of emergency services at University Medical Center, said valley emergency rooms are holding up to 200 patients who are waiting for beds at the state’s Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital or other mental health treatment programs. Many of these patients are deemed at risk of hurting themselves or others, which can lead to them being held for up to 72 hours.

The problem was worsened by January’s closure of a Rawson-Neal outpatient clinic by federal officials because — cruel irony alert — it wasn’t a fully functioning emergency room. But hospital emergency rooms don’t have the specialists and resources required to properly triage, diagnose and treat the mentally ill. The outpatient clinic was opened last year specifically to keep the mentally ill out of emergency rooms. The federal intervention is further proof that Washington fouls up everything it lays its heavy hands on.

And so the valley’s mental health crisis has once again created a larger health care crisis. Having ambulances drive all over town waiting for emergency room beds affects response times, which can be a matter of life and death.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Governor’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Council, Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden was directed to come up with a solution. Here’s one: Get on the phone to Nevada’s congressional delegation and tell them to do whatever is necessary to get the Rawson-Neal outpatient clinic reopened.

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