SALT LAKE CITY — Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Nevada over the past five years bused more than 1,500 mentally ill patients to cities and towns across the country, a Sacramento Bee investigation found.
More than 400 patients were bused out last year, according to the report. Hundreds of people have been bused to California, while more than 50 people have been sent Utah and more than 100 to Arizona. At least 33 discharged patients have been bused to Salt Lake City, according to the Sacramento Bee's interactive map.
Patient dumping is not a solution, said Rebeca Glather, executive director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah.
“If every single state were doing that, then you always end up on the receiving end as well,” Glather said. “It’s a poor attempt at solving a very complex challenge.”
From 2009 to 2012, as Nevada slashed funding for mental health services, the number of mentally ill patients sent to other states has gone up 66 percent, according to the report.
Some patients are taken to places where they have family, but many are sent to areas where they have no connections. They're given three days of their prescribed medications and a discharge order that asks the patient to see a doctor. By the time they reach their destination, many patients are already out of medication.
At least one Nevada official has defended the practice.
"The vast majority of patients they are discharging to the Main Street bus station are mentally stable and have family members, treatment programs or both waiting for them at the end of their rides," Dr. Tracey Green, Nevada's health officer, told the Bee.
Glather said she hopes the 52 patients sent to Utah have turned up safe and received the necessary treatment. Without it, they could have wound up in hospitals or jails.
“Moving individuals to default into the most expensive systems of care is obviously counterproductive to reaching positive outcomes,” she said.
Valley Mental Health in Murray is calling Nevada to check records.
“We are looking into the matter to determine if any Valley Mental Health clients were affected by this practice, and if so, to improve continuity of care planning at the highest levels,” said Laura Wall, foundation director. “Regardless, we will attempt to connect with leadership at the highest clinical and administrative levels to improve coordination of care for any future clients needing transfer services.”
Doug Thomas, the assistant director of Utah's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said he knew of no cases in which Utah sent mental health patients to other states, or Utah agencies that took in some or all of these displaced people.
Glather said most individuals with serious mental illness are not at risk of being violent to other people. She said she is far more concerned about their safety and well-being.