KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Investigation Finds Problem Nurses Stay On Job Amid Nursing Shortage

Propublica/The Los Angeles Times found that "the board charged with overseeing California's 350,000 registered nurses often takes years to act on complaints of egregious misconduct, leaving nurses accused of wrongdoing free to practice without restrictions ... It's a high-stakes gamble that no one will be hurt as nurses with histories of drug abuse, negligence, violence and incompetence continue to provide care across the state. While the inquiries drag on, many nurses maintain spotless records. New employers and patients have no way of knowing the risks."

Some of the article's key findings include: "The board took more than three years, on average, to investigate and discipline errant nurses, according to its own statistics. In at least six other large states, the process typically takes a year or less. ... [It] failed to act against nurses whose misconduct already had been thoroughly documented and sanctioned by others. ... [It] gave probation to hundreds of nurses - ordering monitoring and work restrictions - then failed to crack down as many landed in trouble again and again. ... The board failed to use its authority to immediately stop potentially dangerous nurses from practicing. It obtained emergency suspensions of nurses' licenses just 29 times from 2002 to 2007 (Ornstein, Weber and Moore, 7/11).

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reports on how the nursing shortage is affecting Florida: "Florida lacks enough new nurses to make up for the large numbers of nurses approaching retirement age within the next decade, according to a May report by the Florida Center for Nursing. The shortage is not just driven by the impending retirements of nurses, but also an aging baby boom population that will require more health care in the coming years." Mary Lou Brunell, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, said the shortage "poses a serious threat to the quality and availability of health care in Central Florida and throughout the state." The paper notes "the lack of qualified faculty and competitive wages for nurse educators are major obstacles. More than 12,000 qualified applicants were turned away from state nursing education programs in 2007-2008. Because salaries for nurses can be considerably higher than educators, many choose health care over teaching" (Quintero, 7/13). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.