Nevada is within its rights to dump mental health patients on other states, a federal judge ruled last week stated, according to this article in the Las Vegas Sun. While the Las Vegas lawyers representing the mental health patients being shipped out of the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital faced defeat in the courtroom, many Nevada residents believe that the answer was an over-simplified legal one with many questioning the relationship between morality and justice.
Las Vegas lawyers filed a lawsuit alleging that the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital—the only one in Nevada—regularly discharges patients with one-way bus tickets out of Nevada. The claim is corroborated by the Sacramento Bee, which reports that since 2008, more than 1,500 patients had been discharged and arrived in Sacramento with little more than a psychotropic pill in their pocket and a meal-replacement shake in their hand. The plaintiff in the suit filed by the Las Vegas lawyers was James Flavy Coy Brown, who -homeless and hearing voices – got the “Greyhound therapy” after two days of treatment in the psych hospital. With a ticket to Sacramento, a place he’d never been and where he knew no one, Brown was essentially pawned off onto the California mental health system.
But that’s not illegal or a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, said Judge James Mahan, who heard he case filed by Brown’s Las Vegas lawyers. Judge Mahan’s ruling left the door open for the attorneys to rework their case and file again, which they plan to do, but they may again meet dead ends in fighting for Brown’s rights and those of similar patients. Nothing in the practices routinely implemented by Nevada’s only psychiatric hospital are in violation of the law, so change may not be enacted through the courts.
But change is deserved, many say, and is a matter of some urgency. For the two million residents in Nevada living with severe and persistent mental illnesses, there are few options, and virtually no options for those without private insurance. Rawson-Neal opened in 2006, and only after local emergency rooms were continually overwhelmed with mental health patients. Yet even now, the lack of resources allocated to mental health puts Nevada in the category of having the fewest psychiatric hospital beds per capita, and the Rawson-Neal’s walk-in clinic recently closed after having been ruled as out of compliance with federal standards.
None of this is helping. When patients like Brown get care plans from the hospital that are comprised only of calling 9-1-1 in Sacramento after a grueling 15-hour bus ride out of the state, the public begins to wonder whether it’s right to treat people this way. And when the collective answer is “by no means,” then it becomes up to us to make changes. Maybe this isn’t an issue for litigation, and it is possible that Las Vegas lawyers will fail in the future, as they have in Brown’s suit, but it is an issue worth attending to, and the call for help is louder than ever: Nevada needs to do better.