Greyhound Therapy: Patient Dumping Puts Psychiatric Patients At Grave Risk Of Harm

Posted on: 10 January 2017

A state-run mental hospital in Nevada has found a unique solution to patient overcrowding: give unwanted patients a one-way bus ticket to anywhere they want to go. Nicknamed "Greyhound therapy," the process has finally resulted in a class action lawsuit against the hospital. However, patient dumping isn't a new phenomenon—especially with low-income patients who haven't got the insurance to pay. This is what you should know.

A psychiatric crisis is as real as any physical crisis.

Hospitals that accept state and federal funds have to accept patients who are having a medical emergency—it doesn't matter if the emergency is physical or psychiatric in nature. For example, someone suffering from an acute depression and who feels suicidal is just as much in need of medical care as someone who is suffering from dangerously high blood sugar levels.

But it usually isn't the patient with the high blood sugar that gets stuck on a bus out of town with just enough medication to get them to their destination. 

The practice is disturbingly common.

A recent report published in the Health Services Research journal concluded that two-thirds of mental hospitals that provide inpatient care participate in the practice of "patient dumping." Most of the hospitals that do it are for-profit private hospitals, but nonprofit hospitals are also guilty of the practice. The patients that are dumped are usually the hardest of the hard-luck cases—patients without resources and whose mental health issues are difficult to control or not responding quickly to traditional treatment. 

It can even put an at-risk patient at further risk of harm.

The worst part about patient dumping is that it often takes a patient that is already vulnerable and puts them at further risk of harm. When a stabilized mental-health patient is able to be released, it's often difficult enough for the patient to find food and shelter in a city he or she is already familiar with—when a patient who is not stabilized, but simply sedated enough that he or she doesn't give his or her handlers any trouble while getting on the bus, is sent to a far-off city without adequate social support, he or she is likely to become homeless almost immediately.

The Nevada hospital, in at least one case, is accused of being entirely aware that the patients weren't fit for discharge. In one case, they sent a patient with a note instructing him to call 911 for assistance once he got to his destination.

Patient dumping is a terrible act that can have devastating consequences. It can result in an aggravation of someone's mental health problems, making them harder to treat and requiring more care than they might have needed otherwise. It can also lead to suicide. If you've been the victim of patient dumping, or if a close family member died as the result of patient dumping, contact an attorney at a firm like Gregory R Heline & Associates Law Office to discuss the possibility of a case.