Las Vegas Sun

April 24, 2014

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San Francisco makes good on its threat to sue Nevada in patient busing scandal

San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera filed today a class action lawsuit against the state of Nevada to recoup costs for care San Francisco provided to mentally ill patients bused there from Nevada.

The lawsuit also seeks a court injunction stopping Nevada from similar discharge practices in the future.

“The litigation makes good on Herrera's legal threat in a formal demand letter to Nevada's Attorney General last month, alleging that Rawson-Neal improperly discharged and unsafely transported at least two-dozen patients by Greyhound bus to San Francisco between 2008 and 2013,” the city attorney’s office said in a press release today. “Herrera's investigation established that patients were transported without adequate food, water or medication, and without instructions or arrangements for their continued care when they reached their destination.”

San Francisco’s city attorney’s office also acknowledged a letter sent yesterday from Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. That letter sought to defuse the potential for a lawsuit through closer collaboration between California and Nevada governments.

Herrara, however, filed the lawsuit today requesting about $500,000 in compensation for medical care, shelter, and other necessities that he claims San Francisco taxpayers provided to mentally ill patients who arrived in the city from Nevada.

“Homeless psychiatric patients are especially vulnerable to the kind of practices Nevada engaged in, and the lawsuit I've filed today is about more than just compensation -- it's about accountability,” he said in a news release. “What the defendants have been doing for years is horribly wrong on two levels: it cruelly victimizes a defenseless population, and punishes jurisdictions for providing health and human services that others won't provide. It's my hope that the class action we're pursuing against Nevada will be a wake-up call to facilities nationwide that they, too, risk being held to account if they engage in similarly unlawful conduct."

Herrera’s office has been corresponding with Masto’s since April, according to a copy of Masto’s Sept. 9 letter included in the lawsuit documents.

In that letter, Nevada officials sought to push back against charges that San Francisco was the sole recipient of mentally ill patients who could not pay for their own care.

During the past five years, about 771 patients served in Nevada psychiatric hospitals appeared to be residents of California, wrote Linda C. Anderson, chief deputy attorney general for the State of Nevada, citing Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Nevada taxpayers likely paid about $6.2 million to provide care for them, she wrote.

“Therefore, since both California and Nevada are financially impacted by the travel of individuals with mental illness between our states, we believe that government officials would benefit from better communication and collaboration on protocols to address the needs of these patients rather than trying to allocate financial responsibility through litigation,” Anderson wrote.

The State of Nevada and its mental health administrators are already facing another class action lawsuit from the ACLU of Nevada.

Both the ACLU and San Francisco lawsuits stem from cases in which Nevada psychiatric hospitals improperly discharged mental health patients and sent them on buses to other states with few provisions and medications and with little to no plans for follow up care.

Both lawsuits cite reporting from the Sacramento Bee, which first reported earlier this year that a patient named James Brown had been improperly bused from Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Southern Nevada to the streets of Sacramento with no plans for follow up care and no family or friends to meet him.

The ACLU is representing Brown in its lawsuit.

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