In Minnesota, nurses in trouble get second chances

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 6, 2013 - 10:29 PM

State regulators say they protect the public with a closer watch on caregivers accused of misconduct. Those who lost loved ones want them to do more.

A police officer, summoned by a delayed emergency call, tried resuscitating the elderly woman, with no help from the nurses. Then paramedics took over. It was too late.

At 5:05 a.m., Jan. 19, 2009, Bothun was pronounced dead.

A state investigation found a severe breakdown in Bothun’s care just before her death and determined that the failure of nurses Elijah Mokandu and Meaza Abayneh to help her during the apparent heart attack amounted to neglect of a vulnerable adult. Police and the city attorney went further: They charged the nurses with criminal neglect, a rare step in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Board of Nursing could have taken away the licenses of Mokandu and Abayneh. Instead, it directed them to take training classes and consult with other nurses about how to respond to emergency situations.

The two nurses were allowed to keep practicing.

That’s the board’s common response when nurses are accused of endangering or harming patients from serious medical errors, thefts of medication or outright neglect.

Records examined by the Star Tribune of more than 1,000 disciplinary actions by the Nursing Board over the past four years show that it tolerates or forgives misconduct that would end nursing careers in other states.

The Star Tribune’s investigation found:

• The board actively licenses more than 260 nurses since 2010 who have records of unsafe practice, including botched care that led to patient harm or even death.

Eighty-eight nurses are allowed to practice despite having been charged or convicted of crimes such as physical or sexual assault and drug thefts — some against their own patients.

• The board gives nurses who admit misconduct second, third and sometimes more chances to keep practicing.

• Getting fired for incompetence, even multiple times, rarely means Minnesota nurses lose their licenses.

• Minnesota is one of only 10 states where the board has no restrictions on granting licenses to felons, according to a 2012 survey of state nursing boards.

Gov. Mark Dayton called the Star Tribune’s findings “shocking,” and said the Nursing Board’s actions puts patients at risk for harm.

“It would appear the board is more interested in protecting bad nurses than the public,” he said. “Where does it come from that their job is to give subpar nurses chance after chance after chance?”

In an interview Friday, Dayton vowed to take “whatever action is necessary” to change how the board views discipline, starting with filling two currently open seats with members who will “understand these problems and insist on a very different approach.

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