Earlier this month, ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times published an investigation detailing the failure of the California Board of Registered Nursing to investigate and discipline nurses accused of misconduct in a timely manner. An examination of all disciplinary cases from 2002 to 2008 found that the board took an average of more than three years to investigate and close them — while the nurses accused of wrongdoing continued to practice without restriction. The day after the story was published, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced most members of the board, and its longtime executive officer resigned the day after that.
The fallout has continued. There have been a slew of follow-up editorials and articles in California newspapers. One, in the Los Angeles Times, said of the governor's response: "This time, he acted to protect patients, but where was the gubernatorial outrage when the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which included several of Schwarzenegger's friends, was accused in a state audit of similar failures to put consumers first?"
Another, in the San Francisco Chronicle, suggested that "Schwarzenegger shares a measure of blame too: his imposed work furloughs will slow investigations, and his administration should have been on the problem earlier."
The furloughs — aimed at mitigating the state budget crisis — wipe out three workdays a month, exacerbating the delays. Liz Figueroa, a former state senator who once headed the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, told the Ventura County Star that the nursing board and others ought to be exempt from the furloughs because they are funded through the fees they charge professionals to be licensed, rather than the state's general fund.
Figueroa also told the Star that the problems uncovered at the nursing board are entrenched in all the state boards that regulate health care professionals, which cover everyone from acupuncturists to podiatrists. State Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod stressed that some boards "self-regulate very, very well," but according to the Star, they may not escape a major overhaul of the system. Schwarzenegger's nursing board shuffle, the paper reports, may be just the first in a series of "sweeping changes" to all health care boards.
"Incremental improvements to a broken system is not going to work," said Fred Aguilar, secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency. "We have to put in place a new system."
Meanwhile, The Record-Searchlight ran a story on Saturday about Janet Lee Jones, a California nurse who has faced charges including battery, child endangerment, selling methamphetamine, possessing pain pills without a prescription and driving drunk. Yet you can still find her active nursing license — albeit with restrictions — in our database of the more than 2,000 nurses who faced disciplinary action between 2002 and 2008. The nursing board opened its second investigation of Jones in 2004 but didn't officially sanction her until 2008, when it put her on probation. As the ProPublica/Los Angeles Times investigation found, "The board gave probation to hundreds of nurses — ordering monitoring and work restrictions — then failed to crack down as many landed in trouble again and again."
Alexandra Andrews is a reporter for the ProPublica news service, which first published this article.