KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Investigation: Temp Firms Often Employ Incompetent Nurses

"Firms that supply temporary nurses to the nation's hospitals are taking perilous shortcuts in their screening and supervision, sometimes putting seriously ill patients in the hands of incompetent or impaired caregivers," ProPublica and The Los Angeles Times report. "Emboldened by a chronic nursing shortage and scant regulation, the firms vie for their share of a free-wheeling, $4-billion industry. Some have become havens for nurses who hopscotch from place to place to avoid the consequences of their misconduct."

"An investigation by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times found dozens of instances in which staffing agencies skimped on background checks or ignored warnings from hospitals about sub-par nurses on their payrolls. Some hired nurses sight unseen, without even conducting an interview. As a result, fill-in nurses with documented histories of poor care have fallen asleep on the job, failed to perform critical tests or stolen drugs intended to ease patients' pain or anxiety." In California, about 6% of registered nurses are temps, and almost every hospital in the country relies on them to some extent (Weber and Ornstein, 12/6).

Although the nursing shortage has subsided somewhat in hospitals and physicians office, "demand for nurses remains strong in some segments, such as senior care and home care," Idaho Business Review reports. "'Once the economy turns around, we're going to experience the same shortage we did before the downturn, and we're going to have to be prepared to deal with the fixes that were proposed prior to the downturn,' said Idaho Hospital Association President Steve Millard" (Carlson, 12/7).

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