Nevada responds to psych-assessment suit

An attorney for the state argued Monday that a federal lawsuit filed against Nevada over wait times for inmate psychiatric evaluations is moot because the plaintiffs have since been admitted for assessment and treatment.

The lawsuit was filed by the Clark County public defender’s office in June against state mental health administrators over inmate psychiatric evaluations conducted at Lake’s Crossing in Sparks.

Currently, all evaluations ordered by a judge are conducted at Lake’s Crossing, a 66-bed forensic hospital. With three-fourths of Nevada’s population in Clark County 450 miles away, authorities have had to fly in-custody patients up from Las Vegas twice a month, depending on bed availability.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Clark County inmates Eric Burnside, Jaumal Pugh and Nicholas Duran, claimed the inmates’ civil rights were violated because of long wait times to have them evaluated on whether they are competent to stand trial. It said they were kept in jail for weeks in violation of a 2008 agreement reached in a similar lawsuit in which the state agreed detainees should wait no longer than seven days for admission.

The lawsuit said detainees awaiting evaluations are often kept in their cells for 23 hours a day, have a higher risk of suicide and a lower likelihood of achieving mental stability — and resolution of their cases — the longer they wait.

It also argues that delays impair the ability of defense attorneys to effectively represent their clients.

In a response, Senior Deputy Attorney General Julie Slabaugh said Burnside was admitted to Lake’s Crossing on July 11; and Pugh and Duran on July 17.

The lawsuit is another black mark on Nevada’s mental health system that has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over allegations that state-run psychiatric hospitals gave patients one-way bus tickets out of state.

Earlier this month the state Board of Examiners, chaired by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, endorsed allocating $3 million to renovate Stein Hospital in Las Vegas to help with the backlog at Lake’s Crossing. The plan is to reopen Stein, on the campus of Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, which is being investigated by federal regulators.

The funding, up for approval Thursday by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, would create 42 forensic beds in Las Vegas, alleviating the need to fly patients to Northern Nevada.

An additional 16 regular beds would be available to increase capacity at Rawson-Neal.


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