Fired, they still find jobs as nurses

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2013 - 9:31 AM

Holes in state’s oversight mean problem nurses often get rehired somewhere else.

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The Minnesota Board of Nursing discussed possible steps to correct problems identified in its disciplinary practices during a board meeting on Thursday.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES, Star Tribune

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Leaving a nursing job in Minnesota after allegations of misconduct was never much of a problem for Kathryn Idovich. She always found another one.

Six times in 12 years, in fact.

By the time the Minnesota Board of Nursing suspended Idovich’s license last December, Idovich’s employment history included a patient injury under her watch, medication errors, unauthorized lookups of patient records and reporting to work after drinking, records show.

A Star Tribune review of Nursing Board disciplinary actions since 2010 found that at least 173 caregivers lost jobs after allegations of misconduct and managed to find new nursing positions. That includes nurses who have been found responsible for maltreating children and vulnerable adults, stolen drugs from their workplaces, practiced while impaired, or whose care has to led to harm of their patients.

Neither the Nursing Board nor Idovich’s former employers would discuss how she was able to lead such a long career, despite events — four firings, five drunken-driving convictions and failing state sobriety monitoring — that were cited as justification for her license suspension last year.

“There were a number of instances, and such a long pattern,” said Deb Holtz, the state’s ombudsman for long-term care. Holtz reviewed Idovich’s records for the Star Tribune. “There didn’t seem to be any critical point in the system, where someone or something said, ‘This is enough.’ ”

In an interview last month, Idovich, 39, who lives in northern Minnesota, attributed her job turnover to false accusations, bad luck and a desire to do different kinds of nursing care. She said she is ready to return to practice after being sober since April 2012.

“I have letters from my employers saying I was at work on time, that I was working hard and responsible,” she said.

By law, employers are supposed to tell the Nursing Board when they fire a nurse. But the Nursing Board has not used its power to sanction employers for failing to do so.

Nurses who have lost jobs most often find work in the high-demand areas of aging care, group homes and home health care, disciplinary records show. Patti Cullen, the president of Care Providers of Minnesota, a trade group of more than 600 long-term care providers in the state, acknowledged that troubled nurses are working in her industry.

Cullen blamed holes in the state’s background check system and employers’ fear of defamation lawsuits from former employees for enabling problem nurses to quickly find new jobs. Cullen reviewed Idovich’s case for the Star Tribune and said she did not believe any of her members would hire Idovich “if they knew any of this.”

“She fell through the cracks,” Cullen said. “There were a lot of protections that were built in to protect the innocent that also protect those that are chronic offenders.”

 

A career in nursing

Idovich obtained an LPN license in 1997 without disclosing that she had been convicted of drunken driving four years earlier or that she had abused alcohol, according to a Nursing Board report.

Two years later, in 1999, Idovich was working at a group home when a picture frame fell on a resident in her care, she said. The injury near his eye required stitches. Idovich was fired.

The Star Tribune could not determine whether Idovich’s group home employer, or any of her employers since then, complied with the 1989 law requiring reporting of terminations to the Nursing Board, because those reports are shielded from public view.

A law passed last year allows the Nursing Board to levy a fine against any employer that violates this law. The board has not investigated any employer for failing to report, according to Nursing Board Executive Director Shirley Brekken.

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