In June 2011, Allison applied to renew his Minnesota license and wrote “No” if had ever violated controlled-substance laws or faced any other nursing board disciplinary action. When Allison’s employers asked DHS to do a background check on him, that also failed to detect Allison’s record.
DHS looks for out-of-state convictions only if that person has a conviction in Minnesota, which Allison didn’t have.
“That’s a gap in our system,” Kerber said.
With a clean background check and license in Minnesota, Allison was able to get nursing jobs at facilities in Onamia, Minn., and Crosby, Minn. In February 2012, the Onamia facility found discrepancies in how he handled narcotics, including withdrawing them when he was off-duty, records show.
Two months later, the Nursing Board suspended Allison’s license, revealing for the first time that it had learned about his background. He continued to practice in Crosby for two months, when that employer discovered he was withdrawing numerous doses of narcotics and administering only a few of them, according to the Nursing Board report. His license was revoked in December 2012.
‘Will that behavior continue?’
After years of applicants covering up their past convictions, the Nursing Board will start running criminal background checks on new applicants next year. That will not affect active nurses, who are exempt from checks until 2017 at the latest. That’s the deadline set by the Legislature for licensing boards to devise a plan to check all caregivers’ backgrounds.
Records analyzed by the Star Tribune show the Nursing Board has licensed 294 nurses who have criminal convictions in Minnesota that would appear to disqualify them from providing direct care, ranging from assault to drug crimes to felony theft.
Last week, DHS said it will disqualify up to 107 of those nurses after it was presented with records by the Star Tribune. The agency said it was not aware of those nurses’ crimes because of shortcomings in its background checks.
Records show that nurses who lie about their backgrounds do not always jeopardize their license. At least 67 nurses since 2010 have been allowed to continue to practice in Minnesota after the board discovered that they had made false statements to hide past misconduct.
“Yes, the individual provided false information, but that does not necessarily say that the individual will provide false information in every instance forward,” said Shirley Brekken, the executive director of the Nursing Board. “The board ... has to look at what was the intent. What was the level of seriousness of the breach, that breach of ethics, and ... where is the individual now, today? Will that behavior continue?”
Patients also have few ways to find out whether nurses have been found responsible for serious neglect or other maltreatment, misconduct that would prevent them from providing care to patients if they were not licensed professionals.
The state disqualifies nursing aides, personal care assistants and other unlicensed caregivers from patient contact if they have been deemed responsible for recurring or “serious” maltreatment. Serious maltreatment is defined by statute as sexual abuse or neglect that results in death or serious injury.
If the caregiver found responsible for maltreatment has a license from a health board, DHS cannot disqualify them. Instead, state law directs the agency to refer those cases to the appropriate board for action.
From July 2012 through June 2013, DHS sent 18 such cases to the Nursing Board. The public cannot learn the names of those nurses, because state law shields the identities of nearly all caregivers found responsible for maltreatment or neglect.