By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval on Tuesday defended his state against a report that a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital improperly sent hundreds of discharged patients by bus to California and other states, a practice known as patient dumping.
The Republican governor acknowledged that the state-run Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital improperly discharged at least one mentally ill man but said a new discharge policy put in place in recent weeks would prevent future missteps.
A state investigation led to disciplinary action against two employees, health officials said.
The Nevada governor's comments came a day after San Francisco's city attorney said he had opened an investigation into reports by the Sacramento Bee that Rawson-Neal gave bus tickets to as many as 1,500 patients without adequate provisions for food, medication, housing or medical treatment in a practice dating back to July 2008.
Sandoval said in a statement that when he learned in early March that in at least one instance "discharge policies and procedures were not followed" at the hospital, his administration began an inquiry.
"Let me be clear, improperly discharging one patient is one patient too many," Sandoval said. "I take the concerns regarding Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital very seriously, and it is not the policy of the state of Nevada to engage in ‘patient dumping' as (has) been alleged."
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he welcomed the governor's measures to stop patient dumping, but that his office's probe would continue.
"Nothing changes my intention to pursue all legal options against the state of Nevada," Herrera said.
Herrera has asked Nevada for public records relating to what the Sacramento Bee investigative series reported.
An ongoing investigation by the hospital has so far found only four or five of its discharges were made in violation of hospital policy, said Mary Woods, a Nevada health and human services spokeswoman.
Nevada State Health Officer Dr. Tracey Green denied the state dumps patients. "We do not practice, nor do we support, patient dumping," she said.
San Francisco health director Barbara Garcia said outreach workers in the past year identified two psychiatric patients who arrived in the city on buses after being discharged from Rawson-Neal with neither relatives nor treatment plans awaiting them in San Francisco.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is investigating the procedures at Rawson-Neal, and the Nevada Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance recently completed a probe, Woods said.
Built at a cost of $35.5 million, Rawson-Neal opened in 2006 with 190 beds.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)