A federal lawsuit alleging that a state-run mental health clinic in Nevada dumped more than 1,500 patients in San Jose and various other cities by bus over the past several years was dismissed last week. But civil rights groups and attorneys say the fight isn’t over.
The civil case filed last summer accuses Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas of patient dumping, sending hundreds of vulnerable clients to far-away cities with a one-way Greyhound bus ticket and a limited supply of medication. The Sacramento Bee first reported the story after encountering a disoriented man diagnosed with schizophrenia—49-year-old James Flavy Coy Brown, who showed up at a soup kitchen claiming to have been sent to Sacramento, where he has no friends or family. The newspaper said at least five patients wound up in San Jose.
A Sacramento attorney filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Brown and other patients against Nevada, arguing that discharging patients to distant cities where they lacked a support system was a civil rights violation. U.S. District Court Judge James C. Mahan said in dismissing the case that no one physically forced Brown to get on the bus to Sacramento, that the state merely provided him with a ticket.
“The coercive power of the state was not imposed on [Brown],” Mahan writes in his decision. “There was no direct command from an individual bearing state coercive authority, nor threat of punishment if [Brown] did not travel to Sacramento.”
Nevada has the option to bus away patients if they can’t afford to treat them, the judge stated.
Still, the state of Nevada stripped the hospital of its accreditation in the months following the Sac Bee reports and has subjected it to extensive outside and internal reviews.
Brown told the newspaper that he’s upset about the ruling and he might appeal.
A second lawsuit, filed by the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office against Nevada, demands reimbursement for the cost of taking in bused-out Rawson-Neal patients. That case is still pending in the San Francisco Superior Court.
County-contracted mental health expert Paul Taylor told San Jose Inside last April that he was shocked but unsurprised by news of alleged patient dumping.
“There have been rumors about this for as far back as the 1970s, that other states were sending mentally ill here, because we have large progressive cities with good public health programs,” Taylor said.