The Sacramento Bee focuses on Nevada’s wrongs again … and again

Jeff vonKaenel

The Pulitzer Prize is the most coveted award in journalism. Now, while I am not, nor ever have been, nor ever expect to be, a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, I thought the board should consider reporter Cynthia Hubert of The Sacramento Bee for her excellent investigative story on how a Las Vegas hospital had put 1,500 mentally ill patients on buses and shipped them out of the state.

Hubert’s story, published on March 1, 2013, began:

“James Flavy Coy Brown arrived at Loaves & Fishes carrying his walking papers from a Nevada state mental hospital and a schedule detailing his 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Sacramento.

’Discharge to Greyhound bus station by taxi with 3 day supply of medication,’ reads the paperwork from Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services that he handed to Loaves & Fishes staffers. ’Follow up with medical doctor in California.’”

It was a great piece of journalism. An important story that illuminated a major societal issue: how we treat the mentally ill, and how the people who most need help and compassion are so mistreated.

And since March, the Bee has followed up on this story. And followed up on that story. I stopped counting at 19 additional stories and more than 20,000 printed words.

That is a lot of follow-up. There is no doubt that what Nevada’s underfunded and understaffed hospital officials did is wrong. It’s so wrong, the hospital deserves to lose its accreditation.

Of course, we would not think of busing our mentally ill patients out of state to save money on treatment. No, sir. Instead, we put them in jail, after they commit a minor crime or make a nuisance of themselves.

Jail or a bus? One does not need a medical degree to know that neither option is the best place to be if you happen to be prone to psychotic episodes. After they serve their time, we in the Golden State release our neighbors, our sons, our daughters, our classmates, without aid or assistance. They are left to fend for themselves on the streets.

What Nevada did was wrong, but what we are doing is also wrong. By continuing to focus on Nevada’s misdeeds while essentially ignoring California’s misconduct, the Bee makes it appear that the primary problem with California’s mental-health services is Nevada. If only it were that simple.

The Bee’s coverage has ceased to be about mental-health issues. Rather, it seems to be driven by the paper’s desire to win journalism awards. This is sad. At one time, just a few years ago, the Bee had 300 reporters who were consistently doing good investigative reporting. There was no need to continuously milk one good story to death. I do not get a vote on the Pulitzer committee, but if I did, I’d say that the Bee has written themselves out of consideration for the prize.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.