LOS ANGELES (AP) - California's nursing board failed to yank or restrict the licenses of dozens of nurses who have criminal convictions for years before it acted against them in a state that has the largest number of registered nurses in the nation, it was reported Saturday.
A joint investigation by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization found that some nurses - about 115 - were only flagged by the state agency after they racked up three or more criminal convictions. Twenty-four nurses had at least five, according to the newspaper.
In other instances, hospitals and clinics that want to do background checks on possible candidates found that some nurses had a clean record, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing, despite being convicted of a crime.
"I'm completely blown away," said Julianne D'Angelo Fellmeth, administrative director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego and an expert on professional licensing boards in California. "Nurses are rendering care to sick people, to vulnerable people. . . . This is a fundamental failure on the part of this board."
A top nursing board official said her agency is taking the findings seriously but was unable to say why individual cases were missed.
"We're just really putting our arms around the issue," said Heidi Goodman, the board's assistant executive director. "It's important. It's vital. It is what we do. That's our mandate: Public protection."
Among those who skirted the system was a nurse from Redding who
had 14 convictions since 1996, a year after she received her license; an Orange County man who renewed his nursing license for years even after he was imprisoned for attempted murder; and a San Pedro man who had various convictions before the board put him on probation.
The agency's screening process also may be flawed in two ways.
About 146,000 nurses weren't required to get fingerprinted because
the state starting doing so in 1990 after they had received their
licenses. The state does not ask nurses to disclose criminal convictions that occurred since the last time they applied - a process that occurs every two years.
Even California's vocational nursing board, which oversees nurses with a lesser degree of training, requires renewing nurses to report convictions. California's registered nurses are asked only to pay a fee and verify that they have completed continuing education courses.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)