Posts Tagged ‘suspension’

Seriously Flawed Federal Database Subject of Intense Investigation: Many Sanctioned or Unlicensed Care Givers Missing.

February 15, 2010

Some weeks back I wrote on a report of nurses crossing state lines to continue practicing medicine even though they had lost their licenses or had been disciplined in another jurisdiction.  This evening we get a report  done by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times of a horribly defective database established by Congress in 1990 – Section 1921 of the Social Security Act – The Medicare and Medicaid Patient and Program Protection Act of 1987 as amended by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. 

In this investigative story, Dangerous Caregivers Missing From Federal Database – ProPublica, we get insight into a very broken national database system established to track incompentent care givers in the interest of public safety.  Here are some random samples provided by the reporters:

Numerous disciplinary records appear to be missing from a federal database. Indiana, for example, didn’t report hundreds of disciplinary actions in 2004 and 2005 – including the nearly 100 nurses who were indefinitely barred from caring for patients. In one case, a nurse had put a knife to a co-worker’s throat.

Some of the missing cases involve providers who have harmed patients – a nurse, for instance, whose license was pulled after she injected a patient with painkillers in a drugstore parking lot and improperly prescribed methadone to an addict who later died of an overdose.

The Act as amended was “designed to protect program beneficiaries from unfit health care practitioners . . . .  Section 1921 . . . requires each State to adopt a system of reporting to the Secretary of HHS certain adverse licensure actions taken against health care practitioners . . . and entities.  It also requires each State to report any negative actions or findings that a State licensing authority, peer review organization, or private accreditation entity has concluded against a health care practitioner or health care entity.”  (Quotation from The Federal Register, Thursday, January 28, 2010).

The implementation of this new rule, authorizing use of the national database, is to be effective March 1, 2010.  Perhaps this database is not quite ready for ‘prime time’ yet!

As the reporters for ProPublica and the LA Times point out, the reporting to the database over these past decades has been random and gravely flawed at best.  Numerous discrepancies have been found by a team of investigative reporters.  When state records of licensure actions have been cross-checked against this national database, shockingly numerous omissions of reporting are evident.  This has been brought to the attention of the government officials.  Here are some of their responses:

The omissions took federal health officials by surprise. Only last month, a spokesman for the agency that oversees the database told reporters that “no data is missing.” Another official said the agency had been “constantly” checking its data against state licensing board websites.

But Friday, the head of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) acknowledged that records were missing. She said her agency had launched a “full and complete” review to determine what is wrong and how to fix it.

“We take this very seriously,” administrator Mary Wakefield said.

The new information will still go online as planned – but with a warning that it is incomplete, she said.

Wakefield and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter Friday to the nation’s governors asking for their immediate help fixing gaps in the database [4]. It was a matter of “protecting the safety of patients across this country,” they wrote.

So, the question remains: how many more previously determined incompetent and dangerous health care providers are going to be rendering care while the government figures out who is missing from the database?  How long will it take the government to fill-in the void of information?  Maybe they should hire the investigators for ProPublica and the LA Times, who apparently have a lot better information that our federal government in its database.  Will there finally be significant penalties for states that fail to report as they should have been doing for years and years?  Where does this incompetence end?  When will public safety take some precedence? 

A law has been ‘on the books’ for two decades.  Only now we discover that it is defective at best.  Hopefully it will take less than two more decades for those who should be listed among the ‘dangerous caregivers’ to become included in this ‘book of shame’ database.

Public beware: disciplined nurses crossing state lines to practice anew.

January 4, 2010

A recent report posted on ProPublica tells a shocking and scary tale of how some nurses, disciplined in one state, have taken up new jobs as licensed nurses in a different jurisdiction.  This story was brought to light by the combined investigative efforts of Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber of ProPublica and Maloy Moore of the Los Angeles Times on December 27, 2009.

According to this report, there exists a “dangerous gap” in the way states regulate nurses.  As an example of just how serious a problem this may be, the reporters found that in California alone, a months-long review of the 350,000 registered nurses in that state revealed that there were at least 177 nurses, whose licenses had been revoked, suspended, surrendered or denied elsewhere.

The online article gives the following example (among a number they discovered):

In May 2005, a 3 year old boy, Jexier Otero-Cardona, died while under the care of a home health nurse, Orphia Wilson. The child suffered from chronic respiratory failure and muscular dystrophy.  Early one morning, Nurse Wilson frantically summoned the child’s parents for assistance when the child stopped breathing.  After heroic efforts at CPR by his mother, the child died the  next day at a hospital in Connecticut.

This was not the first child to die under Nurse Wilson’s care, the state’s investigation revealed.  Just seven months before, Nurse Wilson had lost her Florida license due to apparent lapses in the care of another child in that state in 2002.

In the months of investigation by Connecticut officials that followed Jexier’s death, it was determined that Wilson “had fallen asleep, then ignored – or possibly turned-off – the ventilator alarms that were intended to warn when the child was not getting enough oxygen.”

The following quote from the article tells the tragic story of a failed system of regulating the licensure of nursing in our country:

“Florida officials, for instance, didn’t notify Connecticut authorities when they sanctioned Wilson – even though she’d told them that she also held a Connecticut license. And Connecticut’s nursing board renewed Wilson’s license three times after Thierry’s death, relying on her pledge that she hadn’t been disciplined or investigated elsewhere.”

The reporters identify several key failures in our country’s system of regulating the licensing of nurses.  First, they note that in some instances some states do not do a simple check of a national database, which can within seconds reveal (if the data  has been timely and accurately supplied) that a nurse has been disciplined elsewhere.  This has dire implications in many hospitals and health care employers rely on state nursing boards to verify a nurse’s licensure status and fitness to practice.  Secondly, they tell a tale of how long a disciplinary process may take and how long the reporting of that finding will occur, if ever.  The tale of horrors goes on and on.

Just a bit of digging (much more to come!) into the background of this issue reveals that The Medicare and Medicaid Patient and Program Protection Act of 1987 led to the creation of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which was a tracking system designed to protect program beneficiaries from ‘unfit’ health care practitioners.  The NPDB was implemented in the fall of 1990 and required reporting of adverse licensure, hospital privilege and professional society actions relating to quality of care by physicians and dentists. According to one source, proposed rules adding other practitioners, including nurses, were published in March 2007.

Query:  does anyone know if those “proposed rules” were ever made into final rules?

The full scope of the legislative history, the awarding of three grants to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in excess of $1,000,000 between 1990 and 1997, the commendable activities of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing over many years to get better control and surveillance of licensure and ‘fitness’ to practice for nurses are all topics well beyond the scope of this blog.

Research is underway by our firm to determine the current status of federal legislation in this area as well as a myriad of other related topics – for example, what states boards of nursing do not yet have an agreement with the National Council?  What are the current requirements for timely reporting of adverse actions against nurses?  What legislation, if any, is pending to address this situation?  What other sad stories like that reported by these investigative writers are out there?

All the hard work to establish reporting guidelines and a national network for avoidance of these types of tragedies can not go for naught due to provincial and/or political interests that can result in serious harm to the public.

If you have any information about the current status of legislation or stories like that reported by ProPublica and others, let us know.