CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A panel of state lawmakers approved $3 million on Thursday to expedite the addition of psychiatric beds in Nevada to improve mental health programs and reduce the logjam of psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms.
Approval by the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee will allow the renovation of the Stein Hospital in Las Vegas, adding 58 beds, 42 of which are planned for patients in legal custody. The others would be available for overflow from the adjacent Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital.
Lawmakers were told those renovations won't be complete until 2015.
The push to upgrade psychiatric facilities came as Nevada's mental health system is under intense scrutiny following allegations that patients were released and bused out of state, and of poor record keeping.
Rawson-Neal and Dini-Townsend hospital in northern Nevada are under investigation by federal regulators.
"We understand the seriousness, the issues, the public scrutiny we are under and this is Job 1 in the department," Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden told the panel.
Lawmakers earlier approved $2.1 million to add 22 beds at the Las Vegas hospital.
Another problem is the backlog of in-custody patients awaiting court-ordered psychiatric evaluations. Currently, those assessments are conducted at Lake's Crossing, a 66-bed forensic hospital in Sparks. Earlier this year the state was slapped with a federal lawsuit by the Clark County public defender's office, alleging detainees often have to wait weeks or months to be evaluated.
Willden said there are currently 38 people awaiting evaluations, 34 of them from Clark County.
Lawmakers earlier approved adding 10 beds to Lake's Crossing, and Willden said those should be available by November.
Officials hope putting forensic beds in Clark County where three-fourths of Nevada's population lives will further reduce waiting times.
The situation in hospital emergency rooms has eased somewhat, with 89 psychiatric patients taking up space in southern Nevada, Willden said, noting that's down from an average of 115-120 over the past 10 days.
Willden said the majority of those patients are not in need of emergency room care.
Dr. Tracey Green, the state's chief medical officer, said a survey of ER patients since July shows about 40 percent are homeless and 10 percent are non-Nevada residents. Roughly half have a primary psychiatric diagnosis and 17 percent had a chemical dependency.
Green and Willden said the department is using the information to target intervention.
Willden said an around-the-clock urgent care center in Las Vegas to evaluate mental health issues will be up and running soon, as will a drop-in center designed to coordinate the types of services a person needs.