Bill takes aim at Minnesota's problem nurses

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2014 - 5:33 AM

The proposal, in wake of reports on state Nursing Board, requires immediate suspension of those who fail state monitoring program.

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Shirley Brekken, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Nursing, told a joint legislative hearing that the board’s authority had been limited in some cases by current law and a lack of timely reporting.

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Minnesota health professionals who fail a state program monitoring them for drug abuse and mental illness would automatically be suspended from practicing under a proposal introduced Monday in the Legislature.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL Rochester, said it is likely the first of many proposed changes to the state’s oversight of problem nurses.

In November, the Star Tribune reported that some nurses continued to practice despite being discharged from the Health Professionals Services Program (HPSP) for abusing drugs or alcohol, or for stealing drugs from their workplaces. Legislators convened a hearing later that month where Minnesota Nursing Board officials expressed frustration that they could not immediately suspend nurses terminated from state monitoring.

The Nursing Board has also been frustrated with other aspects of the monitoring program, and some board members were not convinced that it was adequately protecting the public. In 2012, the Nursing Board identified more than 30 concerns it had with state monitoring, including a lack of communication between the agencies and the ability of participants to skip or fail drug screens without immediate consequences.

Liebling, chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee, said she hopes the automatic suspension would give people in the program more incentive to comply with monitoring requirements. If her bill passes, boards would have 60 days to investigate a case.

Her bill would also require additional oversight of the monitoring program, directing the Department of Administration to study the program’s management and organization, and “reorganize the program, if necessary, to ensure its effective and efficient operation.”

HPSP program manager Monica Feider said Tuesday she did not have a chance to read the bill and did not want to comment until she had.

Nursing Board executive director Shirley Brekken said she wanted to speak with Liebling before commenting on the bill.

At its December meeting, the Nursing Board expressed support for several bills it hoped to present to the Legislature, including automatic suspensions for nurses discharged from state monitoring. It also voted to ask legislators for more authority to investigate and punish violations.

 

Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626

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