LAS VEGAS — Public defenders have filed suit against Nevada’s only hospital for mentally ill inmates, saying the demand for beds is so high that defendants declared incompetent are waiting 11 times longer than they should to be admitted.
The Clark County public defender’s office filed the lawsuit in June against Lake’s Crossing Center in Sparks, saying inmates on the waiting list are spending an average of 80 days in jails without proper treatment and with their legal cases on hold.
“Incompetent detainees have routinely spent weeks and, in most cases, months, at detention facilities where the conditions are punitive and no prompt restorative treatment is available,” the lawsuit alleges.
The state must respond to the lawsuit by Aug. 26, according to Nevada Health and Human Services spokeswoman Mary Woods. In the meantime, the state is working to meet demand by adding 10 beds to the Dini-Townsend building — on the same campus as Lake’s Crossing — by November.
Nevada legislators were told about the lawsuit at an Interim Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, when state officials explained that the waiting list for admission to the 66-bed Lake’s Crossing has swelled from six inmates in November to 36 in July.
Las Vegas police fly southern Nevada inmates to Lake’s Crossing on twice-monthly flights that accommodate up to six people. Different inmates are shuttled back to southern Nevada on the returning flights.
There’s no single explanation for why the backlog has become so severe. Nevada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tracey Green, said courts are referring more defendants to competency evaluations. Health and Human Services chief Mike Willden says long-term patients who stay at Lake’s Crossing for years are taking up valuable beds.
Whatever the cause, it’s creating the same problem that emerged in 2005, the first time Lake’s Crossing was sued. The state settled that case in 2008, agreeing that inmates should wait no more than one week for admission, according to Clark County Deputy Public Defender Christy Craig.
Aside from the physical effects on the inmates, the delays slow their movement through the legal process.
“Everything that happens in the case stops until they are found to be competent,” Craig told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/1ce0gnw). “You can’t have a prelim, you can’t have a trial.”
The suit against Lake’s Crossing Center is just the latest trouble for Nevada’s mental health programs. Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas has come under fire after a patient was discharged in February and bused to Sacramento with no support system at his destination.
In July, Rawson-Neal lost voluntary accreditation from the nonprofit Joint Commission. Willden said the state wouldn’t appeal the decision, because starting the process anew would be faster.
The hospital plans to be ready for an inspection in December.