Investigation: Nurses Keep State Licenses Despite Convictions
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that dozens of nurses with criminal records remained fully licensed to practice in California for years before the state's nursing board took action, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The newspaper and not-for-profit investigative news organization ProPublica found 118 cases in which the state did not restrict or remove licenses until nurses had three or more criminal convictions. Twenty-four of the nurses identified had at least five criminal convictions. The offenses included misdemeanors and felonies ranging from petty theft and disorderly conduct to sexual offenses and attempted murder.
To conduct the investigation, reporters reviewed nursing board files, court pleadings, online databases and newspaper clippings. They also interviewed nurses and experts in several states. The investigation included an analysis of all accusations filed and disciplinary actions taken by the nursing board since 2002.
The newspaper's investigation identified two major flaws of the California Board of Registered Nursing's screening process.
In 1990, the state began requiring nursing applicants to submit their fingerprints so law enforcement agencies could notify the board whenever a licensed nurse was arrested. However, the rule does not apply to about 146,000 of the 343,000 active registered nurses in California because they received licenses before 1990.
In addition, unlike most states, California does not require nurses to disclose criminal convictions when renewing their licenses every two years.
Heidi Goodman, assistant executive director of the California Board of Registered Nursing, said the board relies on complaints and anonymous tips to identify convictions among about 40% of its nurses found to have criminal records.
Goodman said the board plans to ask the Legislature for permission to add a question about convictions to its renewal application. According to Goodman, the board does not believe it has the authority to make the change on its own.
In addition, the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which provides support to all state licensing boards, is considering requesting permission from the Legislature to seek fingerprints from nurses and other health licensees who have not provided them (Weber/Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.