Minnesota nursing board seeks more authority to deny licenses

Published 10:48 am Thursday, November 14, 2013

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Board of Nursing wants more authority to deny licenses to nurses who have committed crimes, the board’s executive director told a legislative hearing Wednesday. But nursing board staff members also are defending the agency’s disciplinary record.

The hearing was held in response to a Star Tribune investigative series into Minnesota’s handling of problem nurses.

Nursing board executive director Shirley Brekken indicated at the hearing that the board would benefit from new laws that would give it more investigative authority and more information about nurses under state monitoring.

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Brekken also said the board would benefit from an exemption to a law that requires licensure for criminals if they can prove rehabilitation. The board’s authority to take action in some cases has been limited by the law and the lack of timely reporting by employers and other state agencies, Brekken said. That can also lengthen the amount of time it takes for the board to discipline a nurse, she said.

In an analysis of thousands of nursing board records, the Star Tribune reported how some nurses have kept their licenses despite neglecting patients, stealing drugs from them or practicing while impaired. At the hearing, the nursing board presented statistics that show its most common disciplinary action is the removal of a nurse’s license.

“We have to be very careful not to draw conclusions from these articles,” Brekken said.

State Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, who chairs the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, said she will explore whether the public should have more access to nurses’ backgrounds, the Star Tribune reported.

“So that when I choose my health care provider, do I have adequate data to make a determination about who I want caring for my vulnerable child or my vulnerable adult,” Sheran said.

The chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee, state Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she would like to address the issue of quicker action in disciplining nurses at next year’s legislative session.

“I like the idea of speeding things up,” Liebling said. “We’d like to have more quick control over somebody who may be engaging in harm.”

Only government officials were invited to speak at Wednesday’s hearing. The lack of testimony from the public disappointed Sandi Lubrant, who has helped to form a small group of patient advocates who say their family members were harmed by poor nursing care.

“I think the people who had a voice today were the people who defended the nurses who have made errors or had complaints levied against them,” Lubrant said after the hearing. “I feel like it’s the providers who have the voice, and the consumers really don’t.”