State Licensing Board Investigations

August 10, 2009
Lisa Schulmeister

How long is too long for state licensing boards to investigate complaints about healthcare providers?

An investigation conducted by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica (an independent, non-profit organization that conducts and reports investigations on topics of public interest) found that the California State Board of Nursing took over three years to investigate and resolve complaints about registered nurses practicing in California. Because of the long time period involved, 61 nurses were accused of serious misconduct or errors (including errors that caused patient harm) by three or more employers before the nursing board took action. The board also delayed taking action when nurses were convicted of crimes, including murder and sex offenses, and some felons continued to have clean nursing licensure records, even while in prison.

Days after the findings of the July 2009 investigation were published, most of the members of the California Board of Registered Nursing either resigned or were removed from the board by the governor’s office. The board’s executive officer and the head of investigations for the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Ruth Ann Terry also resigned.

Following the nurses' investigation, scrutiny has now turned to other California State Licensing Boards. State officials plan to review how long it takes all healthcare provider licensing boards to act on complaints.

ProPublica posted a series of articles titled "When Caregivers Harm: California's Unwatched Nurses" on their website, http://www.propublica.org/series/nurses. Although the focus of the current investigations is the state of California, it's likely that other state licensing boards will soon undergo the same scrutiny.