Former Technician editor-in-chief was finalist for 2014 Pulitzer

July 7, 2014
By Chris Saunders

One California day, a scared and suicidal man walked into a homeless shelter in a city he’d never been to before. He’d been discharged from a psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas three days before, given a bus ticket and shipped off to Sacramento with barely any food and little medication.

Phillip Reese

Phillip Reese

He was looking for help – but he never imagined it would come from Phillip Reese, a 1999 NC State graduate and investigative reporter for The Sacramento Bee.

Reese and colleague Cynthia Hubert uncovered a systematic process of patient dumping by the Nevada hospital, which shipped 1,500 mental patients out of state over five years, stranding many in unfamiliar cities with no support system.

Some ended up turning to crime, including one murder.

Reese and Hubert’s reporting led to multi-million dollar reforms in the Nevada mental health care system, led to Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital being stripped of its accreditation and received several prestigious awards, including becoming a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Reese, a former Technician editor-in-chief, called the patient dumping series the most important and effective work of his career thus far.

“This was a very taxing story to report,” Reese said in an email interview. “Cold calling people and asking them about their time in a mental hospital is tough.”

Finding the patients and family members who were willing to talk was one challenge. So was identifying the trend. To do it, The Bee requested the receipts of bus tickets that has been purchased in the last five years.

02sacbee2014_Page_1Reese, who is skilled at data analysis, put the receipts into a database and mapped them. He discovered Rawson-Neal had bused patients to each state in the continental United States during that period, and that’s when he and Hubert started tracking them down.

Some were dead ends. Some of the patients’ stories couldn’t be verified. But thousands of hours later, Reese and Hubert had spoken with nearly two dozen patients and 100 family members, as well as former Rawson-Neal employees who confirmed that busing patients without escorts happened more frequently than officials claimed.

The reports led Rawson-Neal to change its busing policies so that now no one can travel without a chaperone. The state of Nevada also has allocated $30 million in additional funding for mental health care in the state.

“That was validating,” said Reese.

Since the series was published in 2013, Rawson-Neal made changes that enable it to continue receiving federal Medicare funds. A civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of the Sacramento man that was the catalyst for Reese’s series was just dismissed, but the attorney plans to appeal.

Asked if he has any other investigative pieces currently on his radar, Reese has a one-word reply:

“Always.”

–Diana Smith

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One Response to “Former Technician editor-in-chief was finalist for 2014 Pulitzer”

  1. Kevin says:

    Wow, what a story! I love that our alumni blog is sharing the good and positive work that State graduates are doing.

    Great job Phillip for opening our eyes to such horrible behavior and helping to initiate action to change it. Good luck winning the Prize!
    Kevin
    Class of 1991

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