Emergency nurse suspensions increase following Community Watchdog investigation

WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The number of state emergency license suspensions has skyrocketed since our Community Watchdog investigation exposed disciplinary delays that allowed nurses to find new jobs and keep their licenses while under investigation.

Our review of Tennessee Board of Nursing disciplinary action records revealed just three emergency suspensions from October 2015 through October 2016 and 14 since November 2016, according to disciplinary action reports posted on the state’s website. Of those 14, most were for drug or alcohol issues and two involved nurses from Northeast Tennessee, according to the online records.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health says the increases are not the result of any change.

“There has not been any board policy change related to these types of disciplinary actions,” Deputy Communications and Media Relations Director Shelley Walker said. “Our Health Professional Boards have been taking an approach to identify upon receiving a complaint and an investigation those health care providers who, due to their actions, pose an immediate threat to the public.”

“Is this uptick in summary suspensions just a coincidence?” we asked TDOH.

“We aren’t going to speculate or guess why the number of summary suspension cases would change over a certain time period and stand by the statement below,” Associate Communications and Media Relations Director Bill Christian replied.

Lawmakers passed a new state law, prompted by our investigation, that goes into effect this weekend. It requires any medical professional who fails or refuses to take a drug test to receive treatment or lose their license. It also allows TDOH to take quicker action in emergency cases by eliminating some of the bureaucracy.

“We also took the Attorney General out of the picture, so the Department of Health can make their own decisions without going through the Attorney General to decide which ones are critical,” Sen. Rusty Crowe (R), TN-District 3 said.

Washington County Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle says the number of criminal cases of nurses diverting drugs and then finding new jobs continues to grow. She showed us five recent case files stemming from Johnson City.

“All are diverting,” she said. There’s no suspicion. They’ve admitted it. They continue to get employment and they get it quickly. One that I’m reviewing that is really disturbing, the individual has diverted from five hospitals prior to being caught.”

McArdle says she welcomes the new law and the increase in emergency suspensions.

“I think that’s important, because what they’ve been able to do is get a new job rather quickly and what we’ve noticed the trend is they get a new job and they divert at that next hospital or the next doctor’s office,” she said. “Hopefully, their action of continuing to divert medication at least will be stopped for that time period.”

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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