Nevada responds to allegations of 'dumping' mental health patients in California

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Nevada officials are responding to complaints that mental health patients have been dumped across the nation, including Bakersfield.

One analysis found eight mentally ill people ended up in Kern County, after being released from Nevada's main psychiatric hospital. Local crisis centers say they can't verify the complaint, but they're on the look out for the problem.

The allegation is that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas has put patients on buses, and sent them to various communities.

"Certainly, some facilities historically have done that," Kern Mental Health Crisis Services Administrator Bill Walker said. "They've even got a name for it. They call it 'Greyhound therapy.'"

The Sacramento Bee has reported more than 1,500 mentally ill patients have been sent off by bus over the last five years. The issue surfaced in February when a Nevada patient turned up suicidal at a homeless center in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, Eyewitness News contacted Nevada officials to ask about the allegations. "When the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services became aware of an incident where policies were not followed, we immediately initiated an investigation," spokeswoman Mary Woods responded by email. "As a direct result of the investigation, a more rigorous review and approval process for patient discharge is now in place."

Walker was aware of the allegations about the Nevada hospital, but local mental health clinics don't have any direct evidence patients have come to Bakersfield.

"We don't have any indications related to any patients coming from Nevada specifically," Walker told Eyewitness News. "But, we do know this sort of thing can happen."

Walker said several issues make this tough to track down.

He said Bakersfield is a travel "hub," with plenty of people passing through. Walker says people may be traveling someplace else, but get off the bus here, and end up with mental illness issues.

"They may not be able to give us a good understanding of what occurred, and they may not be able to explain how it is that they ended up in Bakersfield," Walker said.

And, local mental health workers often have trouble finding out where a person came from, and where they had been getting treatment before. "When we have 500 to 600 people coming into our crisis unit, it's difficult to go back and look for things like that," Walker said.

The number of people needing help locally is daunting. Walker said their psychiatric evaluation centers may see 750 people a month, and the hotline gets nearly 3,000 calls.

Walker said Kern County mental health workers did find a case several years ago, where a mentally ill person apparently had been sent to Bakersfield from a hospital in Fresno. He said they only traced that incident, through a fax regarding the train ticket the person had.

The allegation regarding the Nevada hospital is that patients are given a bus ticket, but there's no plan for where that person will stay or get treatment at their destination.

Walker said local mental health workers provide treatment for those who need it. They try to find out, what's going on? Who had been treating that person? That assistance will continue, but they are aware of the current allegations.

"What we're adding to that, of course, is a caution that -- has this person been, what they call 'dumped' from some place," Walker said. "If anyone shows up at one of our crisis centers, we can put out an alert to look to see, did they come from this location?"