Nevada Needs to Take Its Medicine

Desai trial highlights need for state to improve social services

The Sacramento Bee?s latest report on the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital and Dr. Dipak Desai?s trial should be a wake-up call to Nevadans. Do we hear the alarm?

In April, the Bee broke its original story about the 1,500 patients the hospital shipped out of state with a bus ticket and some medication in the past five years. Now the Bee has followed up with more such cases.

Reactions from Nevada officials have ranged from claiming that the Bee and California officials are guilty of exaggeration to saying some visitors need to go home for treatment. A few political types have thought this would be an issue with which to rake Governor Brian Sandoval over the coals. Too few have pointed to the limited number of beds for Nevada patients and our unwillingness to confront our failure.

First, sad to say, this story isn?t terribly new. Some longtime Las Vegans will tell you that back in the 1950s, the local policy on treating the mentally ill?and, more often, the homeless or lawbreakers whose crimes couldn?t be easily proven?was a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles. In other words, Nevada was abdicating its responsibilities before many of the patients in Rawson-Neal?or sent away from Rawson-Neal?were born.

Nor is it exclusively Sandoval?s issue or fault. Democrats haven?t stood up strongly enough for the social services that should exist in a mature state. But he and his fellow Republicans merit a great deal of blame. These events have been happening on his watch, and the buck is supposed to stop with the governor?after all, he even blocked the Legislature from assuming more oversight of state government.

Republican governors have been submitting budgets since 1999, and their fellow party members have been keeping the Legislature from spending the kind of money it needs to spend to have enough beds and facilities to rectify the problem.

Meanwhile, Desai and a former employee, Ronald Lakeman, have been on trial for second-degree murder, insurance fraud and criminal neglect of patients over a 2007 Hepatitis C outbreak among seven of Desai?s former patients. The details discussed at trial?such as Desai removing equipment during a colonoscopy like he was ?cracking a whip??should tighten certain body parts, but not merely due to the part of the anatomy under discussion.

The state agency in charge of inspecting endoscopy clinics?in other words, of making sure that they were sanitary and properly run?had said in 2007, before the outbreak, that it lacked the personnel to do its job. It needed more money. Immediately. But Governor Jim Gibbons said no new taxes, and he meant it. So, there wasn?t money for the inspections. Besides, Gibbons said, inspecting clinics annually would be overdoing it. Tell that to those with Hepatitis C.

Whatever we think of Desai, what he?s accused of doing, and what happened at Rawson-Neal, wouldn?t have been so easily accomplished?perhaps not even possible?if Nevada were serious about the needs of its citizens. But we aren?t serious, or serious enough, and this is the latest and possibly worst wake-up call.

There?s plenty of blame to go around for these holes in our safety net?from the state to the ethos it chooses to embody. From its beginnings, Nevadans have taken misplaced pride in what they have mistakenly considered a libertarian society and in industries like mining or tourism that historically haven?t depended on or demanded an educated populace.

Hubert Humphrey once said, ?The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.? Nevada is failing its moral test.