The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Tom Avril reports on how hospital errors led to the death of a 63-year-old north Philadelphia guidance counselor. Avril opens his story by painting a picture of hospital operations, one based on documents released after a state investigation.
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found an army of examples, from the disturbing anecdote they lead with to the 117 California nurses whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, denied or surrendered elsewhere or the 10 nurses who were disciplined in Rhode Island, yet operated with clear licenses in neighboring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.
Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.
The latest post, written by Barbara Olson of Florence dot com, looks at the building blocks of better health care. She says that ten years of studying how to make health care reliable has revealed that “things like speaking clearly, repeating words to be certain they have been understood; taking turns; using “inside” voices; and getting plenty of rest matter when individuals rely on complex processes to deliver intended outcomes. (Even “time-outs” have made a comeback!)”
The state has adopted strict new rules governing drug abusers in the health care industry, requiring that those in the rehab program be tested more than 100 times in the first year, and pulling them from practice immediately should a relapse be detected.
In addition, public Web sites will now list any restrictions to their licenses, “easing the long-standing confidentiality protections that have shielded participants and kept their patients in the dark.”
A quick test showed the patient was likely negative for HIV, but Wilmont still had to decide whether or not to undergo post-exposure prophylaxis, a grueling cycle of treatment that would continue for at least a month. Wilmont had covered post-exposure prophylaxis as a journalist and her knowledge for that helped guide her decision.
ProPublica’s Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein follow up their investigation of California’s nursing oversight with a story about the failures of the state’s nurse rehab program (Los Angeles Times version; ProPublica version). The embattled California Board of Registered Nursing has touted the program as a safe haven where otherwise good nurses can free themselves of bad habits, but Weber and Ornstein have discovered that nurses often don’t complete the program, and sometimes continue bad behavior unabated despite the voluntary, confidential program’s required drug tests and treatment.
The team has reinforced its data-driven story with well-chosen anecdotes and observations. Program proponents argue that Weber and Ornstein are focusing on a few failures and ignoring the more numerous success stories, but the reporters show that the failures are due, at least in part, to flaws in the program. Even nurses designated as a “public risk” often aren’t investigated until more than year after earning that dubious distinction.
The reporters’ sum up the problem thus: “At the moment, the main person responsible for protecting the public from a drug-addicted nurse in California is the drug-addicted nurse. It’s a risky honor system.”