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Harried Nursing Board wants more power to crack down on workers

A highly-negative series in the Star Tribune has put the Minnesota Board of Nursing on edge. As we discussed early last month, the Star Tribune series uncovered a few hundred cases in which nurses were still working despite misdemeanor records that may disqualify them from direct patient care, and a few accused of serious misconduct.

Although these cases represent only a tiny minority of nurses in our state, they are certainly disquieting. Governor Dayton accused the Board of Nursing of being "asleep at the switch" when it comes to discipline. While emphasizing the minuscule percentage of problems among nurses overall, incidents, the Minnesota Nurses Association said the stories were "undoubtedly devastating to patients and families."

The series shouldn't be allowed tarnish the reputations of the more than 20,000 nurses that union represents, however, or any professional in the industry. "It would be a disservice to good nurses everywhere to let this smear campaign gain a groundswell," said a spokesperson.

Yet the laser focus on a tiny percentage of nursing professionals may pressure the Nursing Board into making conspicuous changes under pressure -- and that's not the best way to address a serious situation.

Last month, the Nursing Board insisted its failure to detect these possibly-disqualified nurses should be attributed to gaps in the background-check process used by the Department of Human Services. Now, as public scrutiny mounts, the Board has decided that what it needs isn't better background monitoring but more enforcement power.

In reality, some small minority of nurses does commit misconduct. Just as in the rest of society -- and as shown in the Star Tribune series -- much of that misconduct is tied drug and alcohol addiction. It's true that nursing professionals must be held to a higher standard, but it's also far too easy to point fingers. Even criminal courts are increasingly recognizing that treatment, not punishment, is what's needed for people whose offenses are motivated by addiction.

Minnesota law already has a process in place to deal with nursing professionals accused of addiction or other misconduct that is effective -- when used. The point of the Star Tribune series seems to be that it isn't being used -- either because the Board is unaware of alleged offenders or simply isn't filing disciplinary actions. Nursing professionals deserve individual consideration in a fair process before their livelihoods are taken away, not limitations on their employment rights. 

Sources:

  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Minnesota Nursing Board votes to seek more disciplinary power," Brandon Stahl, Dec. 5, 2013
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Minnesota nurses union calls for more scrutiny of discipline," Brandon Stahl, Nov. 15, 2013
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Minnesota nurses union calls for more scrutiny of discipline," Brandon Stahl, Nov. 15, 2013

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