SF sues Nevada after it refuses to pay patient dumping bill
City Attorney Dennis Herrera wasted little time following through on his threat to file a lawsuit if Nevada didn’t pay up.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the state of Nevada on Tuesday, accusing it of deliberately giving psychiatric patients one-way bus tickets to California in a practice known as patient dumping or “Greyhound therapy”.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court after Nevada officials refused to pay a $500,000 bill the city says it’s due after a state-run mental hospital in Las Vegas bused at least 20 psychiatric patients here and they subsequently received city-sponsored medical care.
The lawsuit also accuses Nevada of transporting almost 500 patients to California over about five years in “a manner that jeopardized the patients’ health and also jeopardized the health and safety of their fellow passengers.” It seeks a halt to the practice and reimbursement for all affected California municipalities.
Nevada officials contend “proper discharges were made” by the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada’s primary state mental facility, and that Herrera hasn’t provided evidence to support his bill.
“You make a demand for approximately $500,000 but you fail to provide details to support your claim, including how you identified the 20 patients,” Nevada Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Anderson wrote in the letter dated Monday.
Herrera in August gave Nevada until Monday to respond to his demand that the state reimburse San Francisco for about $500,000 he says the city spent on medical care, housing and other aid for 20 psychiatric patients given one-way bus tickets here.
In the Aug. 20 letter to Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Herrera also demanded that Nevada reimburse other California cities and counties for their treatment costs for a combined 500 indigent psychiatric patients who were given one-way bus tickets to the Golden State since 2008.
Anderson countered that Herrera has not provided “sufficient explanation of your legal theory or standing for the initiation of a lawsuit by you on behalf of the ‘affected California cities and counties.’ ”
She also pointed in her letter to recent press accounts of a mental health patient sent from California to a Nevada hospital, and said that Rawson-Neal had provided care for 771 patients from California during the period Herrera is investigating, July 1, 2008 to March 31, 2013.
“Therefore, it could be argued that … the taxpayers of the State of Nevada have subsidized the State of California over $6.2 million during this same period,” Anderson wrote.
Herrera’s office contends there’s a difference between a state-run hospital having a policy of busing patients out of state and people voluntarily visiting a state and then needing psychiatric care.
“This dispute is about Nevada’s state-sanctioned practice of improperly transporting indigent psychiatric patients,” Herrera’s spokesman, Matt Dorsey, said shortly before the lawsuit was filed. “It’s not about patients who travel between the states voluntarily. We’re disappointed that Nevada officials have declined to take responsibility for their practice, and the city attorney is preparing his response.”
The issue of patient dumping — a long-believed, but never proven, contributor to San Francisco’s homeless problem — came to the fore after the Sacramento Bee chronicled the ordeal of a 48-year-old Rawson-Neal patient. He was sent on a 15-hour bus ride to Sacramento, despite having no family or friends in the area, and no arrangements for his care, housing or treatment. Hospital staff told him call 911 when he arrived in Sacramento.
Since then, The Chronicle uncovered the similar ordeal of Timothy Martin, a deaf and blind man who found himself homeless on the streets of San Francisco after a one-way ride from a Reno mental hospital. Herrera launched his investigation in April.