Problem nurses move from state to state

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber have, with the help of the Los Angeles Times‘ Maloy Moore, released the final installment in their nurses series (full series: ProPublica | LA Times), this one focusing on how “caregivers with troubled records can cross state lines and work without restriction.” They found that a large number of these cross-state issues could be prevented if state regulators took advantage of readily available information.

By simply typing a nurse’s name into a national database, state officials can often find out within seconds whether the nurse has been sanctioned anywhere in the country and why. But some states don’t check regularly or at all.

The failure to act quickly in such cases has grave implications: Hospitals and other healthcare employers depend on state nursing boards to vouch for nurses’ fitness to practice.

The reporters found an army of examples, from the disturbing anecdote they lead with to the 117 California nurses whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, denied or surrendered elsewhere or the 10 nurses who were disciplined in Rhode Island, yet operated with clear licenses in neighboring Massachusetts.

Most of these transgressions are recorded in a federal database, as well as in one operated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Both are incomplete, even though states are required to update the federal database within 30 days of a disciplinary action. And the federal database, while more complete, is rarely used, probably because it costs money while the state boards’ database is free. Some states only check these databases when licensing a nurse the first time, others rely on the nurses themselves to disclose their own problems. A handful check their nurse list against the database regularly, but they appear to be in the minority.

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