New York's nurse vetting process 'deeply flawed,' watchdog asserts

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New York's statewide system for vetting and overseeing nurses lacks the tools to weed out potentially irresponsible or criminal candidates, according to a new report from ProPublica. The widely read investigative piece has grabbed the attention of healthcare providers and policy makers around the country.

Published Thursday, the report argues that New York “lags behind” other states that have implemented tools like background checks or fingerprinting to identify would-be nurses with criminal histories or legal problems. The state also falls short when it comes to disciplining nurses who have provided inept care, stolen drugs or physically abused patients, as it often takes years for officials to take disciplinary action, authors noted.

New York's Office of the Professions, which handles licensing for healthcare workers, disciplines far fewer problematic nurses than other states, the investigative journalists found. In 2014, the office disciplined fewer than 350 licensed nurses, which comes to roughly 1 in 1,190. That same year, Ohio disciplined more than 1,600, and Texas disciplined nearly 2,300 licensees.

The ProPublica report includes nursing home-specific anecdotes about the state's perceived lack of nursing oversight, including one where a nurse was convicted for providing inadequate care to a resident who quickly died but did not have her license suspended for three years.

“As a professional nurse who is registered in the state of New York, I'm appalled,” Donna Nickitas, executive officer of the nursing Ph.D. program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, told ProPublica. “This is [about] the health and welfare of the general public.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General began an initiative in 2012 to implement background check programs for potential long-term care employees, but that program is off to a “sluggish” start, officials said in January. So far the program has given 25 states grants to create background check programs; New York is not one of them.

Click here to read the full ProPublica report.


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