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First lawsuit filed against Nevada, psychiatric hosptial in alleged 'patient dumping' cases

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June 12, 2013: Surrounded by attorneys, James Brown, second from right, talks at a news conference at the ACLU headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada.AP

The first lawsuit has been filed against Nevada and it main psychiatric hospital, alleging the constitutional rights of hundreds of patients were violated when they were discharged, then bused to destinations across the county without proper consent, preparations or arrangements.

The suit was filed Tuesday in a Las Vegas federal court by a California civil rights attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union. It names as the lead plaintiff the patient whose Greyhound trip to California sparked a newspaper investigation, a federal warning, corrective measures in Nevada and series of official investigations.

ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein said Wednesday the civil rights suit is an attempt to stop the so-called “patient dumping.”

James Brown, the 48-year-old patient, arrived by bus in February at a Sacramento, Calif., facility in a suicidal and confused state while out of food and medication and with no contacts, identification or access to Social Security payments, according to The Sacramento Bee.

The case sparked the paper’s investigative report, which found nearly 1,500 patients from Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas were bused to cities where they had no family, no friends, no contacts and no firm housing arrangements.

Brown reportedly had spnt several years at a Nevada homeless shelter before spending roughly 72 hours at the psychiatric hospital and being discharged.

Following the newspaper stories, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval launched several investigations that resulted in disciplinary and corrective measures. However, the Republican governor has denied allegations the state engaged in patient dumping.  

"Let me be clear, improperly discharging one patient is one patient too many,” the Republican governor said in April. “I take the concerns regarding Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital very seriously. And it is not the policy of the state of Nevada to engage in 'patient dumping' as (has) been alleged.”

His statement was followed by a letter from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that stated the hospital has “serious deficiencies” in its discharge policies and told Nevada to fix problems or risk losing federal funding.

The hospital has since 2008 sent at least one patient to every state in the continental United States, with California receiving 389, based on the newspaper investigation, which includes a review of state records of Greyhound Bus receipts.

While the policy is not illegal, it appears unusual, according to the investigation in which mental health agencies in California and other states said putting a psychiatric patient on a bus without support was not permissible.

Other defendants in the case include three Rawson-Neal staffers and Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, the state agency that oversees the hospital, according to The Bee.

The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco also started their own investigation this spring.