By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco's city attorney said on Monday he has opened an investigation into recent newspaper reports that a Nevada mental hospital was illegally busing hundreds of newly discharged psychiatric patients to California and other states.
In a letter to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, City Attorney Dennis Herrera cited a Sacramento Bee investigative series documenting what it described as rampant "patient dumping" by the Rawson Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas.
The Bee reported that the state-run facility has, since 2008, discharged some 1,500 patients - some of them still mentally ill and indigent - with one-way Greyhound bus tickets to out-of-state destinations without adequate provisions for food, medication, housing or medical treatment.
The report found that one third of those patients were sent to neighboring California, the bulk of them arriving in Los Angeles, while 36 ended up in San Francisco.
"Assuming the reports are true, Nevada's practice of psychiatric 'patient dumping' is shockingly inhumane and illegal," Herrera said in a statement.
Herrera wrote to Nevada's director of health and human services, Mike Willden, seeking copies of public records of the circumstances under which Rawson Neal discharged the 1,500 patients in question.
"Under common law in Nevada and California, the hospitals have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm to patients with respect to the manner in which they are discharged," said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for Herrera.
By placing mentally ill individuals on a bus without a plan for them "to be received by family, medical facility, or other responsible person at the place of destination, and without adequate food or medication, the Nevada hospital placed the patients at risk," he said.
Herrera also sent copies of his letter to Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.
NEVADA REVIEWING THE DISCHARGES
Willden, in an email, said his department was "reviewing the approximate 1,500 discharges that included out-of-state transportation over the past five years."
He blamed what he called a "documentation error" for the hospital staff's failure to "properly discharge the reasons that support interstate placement."
He also said the hospital would review all future patient discharges "to ensure quality of discharge planning and after-care plans."
A Los Angeles city attorney spokesman, Sandy Cooney, said that office was also reviewing the newspaper's report and gathering information "in the community" to decide whether to open its own formal inquiry.
Built at a cost of $35.5 million, Rawson Neal opened in 2006 with 190 beds. A hospital official declined to comment, referring the request to Willden.
Dorsey said the hospital could lose its Medicare funding if found to be in violation of federal laws that require hospitals participating in the program to treat patients until their condition is resolved or stabilized and to plan for after-care following discharge.
In one case cited in its investigation, the Bee reported that the Las Vegas hospital discharged James Flavy Coy Brown, 48, in a taxi to a Greyhound Bus station with a one-way ticket for a 15-hour ride to Sacramento, and a three-day supply of medication to treat his schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
Brown told the newspaper a doctor recommended the trip to "sunny California," where he knew no one, because the state offers superior health care and more benefits than Nevada, Herrera said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Vicki Allen)