By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The city of San Francisco is suing the state of Nevada for busing patients, many of them indigent and mentally ill, from a public hospital in Las Vegas to the Bay Area without plans for continued care.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks $500,000 in reimbursement of public funds claimed to have been used to care for the out-of-state patients as well an injunction barring Nevada from dumping more patients in California in the future.
"Homeless, psychiatric patients are especially vulnerable to the kind of practices Nevada engaged in, and the lawsuit I've filed today is about more than just compensation. It's about accountability," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement about the lawsuit, filed as a class action but not yet certified as such by the court.
The state-run Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas came under fire in April, after the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported that hospital staff had given as many as 1,500 patients one-way bus tickets to California and 46 other states between 2008 and 2013.
Nevada health officials later acknowledged the hospital had shipped 10 newly discharged patients out of state without documenting adequate aftercare plans for food, housing, medication and treatment. They said two employees were fired and three others faced disciplinary action.
Federal authorities in May approved the hospital's plan to increase oversight of discharges to guarantee patients released to other states were enrolled in adequate after-care programs.
Herrera sent a letter last month threatening to sue Nevada, saying Rawson-Neal had bused at least two dozen patients to San Francisco over the past five years.
The city said that shortly after their arrival, most of the patients required medical care and shelter costing $500,000 in city funds, and demanded that Nevada reimburse it.
On Monday, Nevada Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Anderson responded with a letter agreeing to cooperate with an investigation launched by Herrera into patient dumping, but declined to reimburse the city.
She said San Francisco had failed to show how the 24 patients were identified and did not provide sufficient explanation of legal standing for the lawsuit on behalf of "affected California cities and counties."
"Unless you identify the jurisdiction and authority of your government office to represent individuals, apart from the city of San Francisco, in a class action lawsuit and provide more information on your theory of recovery, my office is unable to evaluate your claim," Anderson said.
Herrera said the lawsuit, if successful, would pave the way for other California jurisdictions to seek restitution from Nevada for damages similar to those San Francisco is claiming.
Nevada officials said in May they had corrected some of the problems cited in a hospital-commissioned report and were working to correct the remainder. Anderson's office did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)