Healthcare News & Insights

Nurses with knives? Dangerous staffers with clean records


You assume the new staffer who just passed a background check has a clean record. A recent investigation shows that’s just not the case.

A close look at the federal database that tracks disciplinary records for health care workers shows it has some glaring holes.

The database is newly available to hospitals — but it’s only as useful as the information in it. And a number of state agencies have been sporadic at best when it comes to reporting disciplinary actions they’ve taken against health care employees. The state of Indiana alone didn’t report several hundred records dating from 2004 and 2005.

The investigation was undertaken jointly by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times.

The gaps include practitioners with far more serious offenses under their belts than run of the mill administrative errors or the occasional misjudgment.

Many of the cases involve violence against co-workers, abuse and mistreatment of patients and other crimes. In most cases, the workers held licenses in multiple states and/or continued to work on suspended licenses.

The disciplined workers who should be in the database but aren’t include:

  • A nurse who lost her license after injecting a patient with painkillers in a parking lot and misprescribed methadone to an addict who overdosed.
  • A pharmacist who ran an online “pharmacy” that doled out 1.5 million drug orders without valid prescriptions.
  • A California hospital worker who admitted stealing drugs from one hospital, was accused of theft by five others, and who fell asleep while filling out medical charts.
  • A Florida nurse with a history of drug addiction, multiple DUIs and a felony charge of child abuse.
  • A nurse who threatened a co-worker with whom he had an ongoing dispute by saying “I’ll bet this will shut you up,” while holding a knife to the woman’s throat.
  • A Minnesota therapist who was repeatedly accused of diverting drugs for his personal use and on one occasion had a drug-induced seizure while on the job.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to all 50 governors asking for their help to get the database up to date. But state agencies don’t face any penalties for falling short.

In the meantime, the feds are making the database available to hospitals — but with a warning that the information isn’t complete.

Is that enough? Or must more be done to keep criminals out of health care professions? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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