As many as 107 nurses in Minnesota will be barred from providing direct care to patients after the state Department of Human Services (DHS) learned that they had criminal records that disqualified them from that privilege.
The agency acted after the Star Tribune presented it with the names of 294 actively licensed nurses who have convictions, ranging from criminal sexual conduct to assault to fraud, that by law would appear to disqualify them from working with patients. The agency agreed to review the cases, and found that about a third had not been disqualified.
DHS Inspector General Jerry Kerber said due to gaps in its background check system, the agency was unaware of the nurses’ criminal histories.
“We know that our current system of notifying us is not adequate,” Kerber said.
Kerber attributed part of the problem to his agency’s reliance on criminal records maintained by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Those records don’t show certain misdemeanors that would result in disqualification, such as some assaults and thefts, Kerber said. The Star Tribune compared a list of actively licensed nurses with records from the Minnesota Court Information System (MNCIS), which does show those crimes.
DHS will begin using MNCIS records, but did not do retroactive checks on the nurses’ histories.
About a third of the nurses slipped through the cracks because the agency only did one background check on many of the caregivers, Kerber said. DHS relied on employers and probation officers to report any new crimes, which did not happen.
“What we’re seeing in your data is that there are people on whom we did a background study, and who later offended, and we didn’t know about it, because we didn’t repeat a background study,” Kerber said. “And some of those offenses are even in the serious categories of [criminal sexual conduct].”
Health professionals disqualified from direct care cannot provide treatment, training, counseling or medication assistance to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, assisted living centers and most other state-licensed facilities. The prohibition can last anywhere from seven years to life depending on the reason for disqualification.
DHS said it is prevented by state law from releasing the names of the 107 nurses. The agency said some may no longer be working, while others may have been granted a waiver from disqualification.
Of the total 294 cases the Star Tribune found, the Minnesota Board of Nursing has taken action against 31. The board does not currently check the criminal histories of nurses, relying instead on applicants disclosing that information when asking for a license.
After a recent change in state law, the Nursing Board will begin doing criminal background checks on new nursing applicants by next year.
Nurses with current licenses will be exempt. State licensing boards are required to come up with a plan on how to check the backgrounds of active care providers by 2017.
A Star Tribune investigative series that began last month found the Nursing Board has allowed hundreds of nurses to continue to practice after serious misconduct, including being charged with or convicted of crimes, neglecting patients or stealing narcotics on the job.