Criminal Nurses: Who’s Looking Out for the Public’s Safety?

July 13, 2009

PropublicaScreenshotJournalists Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber have continued their expose of the California Board of Registered Nursing‘s (CBRN) delays in investigating and acting on complaints against nurses. The role of this and other state boards is to protect the public from unsafe nurses. Ornstein and Weber show that nurses who are incompetent or engage in criminal activities are able to go from one workplace to another, sometimes harming patients, because the board fails to meet its obligation to the public in a timely fashion.

I wrote before about this issue back in March when AJN published a study by Zhong and colleagues about recidivism among nurses who are disciplined. The authors found that a prior criminal record predicted who was likely to recidivate. At the time, I noted that Ornstein and Weber’s initial reporting brought more staff positions to the CBRN.

The CBRN would do well to start reporting on the length of time between the filing of complaints and board action. While I was at the meeting of the International Council of Nurses in Durban, South Africa, two weeks ago, an American nurse told me that the CBRN was one of the best boards of nursing in the country. Ornstein and Weber report that it takes the CBRN an average of 1,254 days to investigate and come to a decision about a complaint. This compares with 90 days in Ohio.

Perhaps the National Council of State Boards for Nursing (NCSBN) can work with the state boards to publicly report on a state-by-state basis a quality metric of length of time between complaints and board action. If the public is to feel and be safe from nurses who shouldn’t be practicing, such public accountability and transparency is essential.

Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, AJN editor-in-chief emeritus
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  1. Over 3 years to handle a investigation and come to a decision about a nurse. That’s funny and psathetic at the same time.


  2. It is unfortunate that the information available about this issue has been confined to the limited perspective of the ProPublica journalists. Their reporting does not address the fact that the complaints against nurses are not even managed by the BRN, but by the Department of Consumer Affairs. This expose is not really exposing the true problems faced by the BRN: it is underfunded, and is not structured to carry out the work of protecting the profession and the public. For more information, read an account of the controversy in the Sacramento Bee, including the blog responses, at: http://www.sacbee.com/capitolandcalifornia/story/2030008.html.


  3. […] the other side of the coin, Diana Mason wrote here yesterday about continuing delays in holding criminal nurses accountable in the state of […]


  4. […] at Off the Charts, the American Journal of Nursing blog, AJN editor-in-chief emeritus Diana J. Mason, R.N., Ph.D., weighs in on the investigation and an earlier study of recidivism among disciplined nurses. Mason suggests […]


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