Phillip Reese, Reporter, Sacramento Bee
Steve Sebelius, Columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Jonna Triggs, Former Director, Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services
Sue Gaines, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Nevada
BY AMY KINGSLEY -- Monday, Gov. Brian Sandoval publicly acknowledged that the state had put ten psychiatric patients on buses and sent them out of state, to places where they had no family members or arrangements for treatment.
The governor fired two staff members and disciplined three others. But investigations are still being conducted by the federal government and cities in California into almost 1,500 cases where patients at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital were bused out of state.
The widespread practice of putting patients on buses was uncovered by reporters at the Sacramento Bee. Phillip Reese, one of the reporters on the story, said the use of busing to discharge patients has escalated in recent years.
“We found that the practice increased as the years went on, as these budget cuts really started to bite,” Reese said. “So it was happening more frequently in the last year than it was three or four years ago. “
Steve Sebelius, political columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said he doesn’t believe the scandal is over. The number of patients who have been improperly discharged has been creeping steadily higher since the story broke last month. But right now, most of the outrage over patient busing is happening in California, with minimal response right here in Nevada.
“I got into an argument with some people on Facebook,” Sebelius said. “They say, ‘Why should Nevada pay? Why shouldn’t we bus them back?’”
Before its recent revision, the policy for busing patients in Nevada actually advocated the practice as a way to cut costs.
“I note with great irony that the former policy regarding busing said that the purpose of the busing policy was in order to provide more appropriate care and to remove the burden of treatment from the state of Nevada ,” Sebelius said.
That word, “burden,” prompted a discussion of how the state views people with mental illness.
Sue Gaines, president of the National Alliance for Mental Illness in Southern Nevada, wondered whether the state would use the same language to describe someone who suffered a heart attack.
“Always mental illness is treated differently than any other illness,” Gaines said.