ProPublica: Temp Agencies Are A Haven For Impaired Nurses

This is the second "bad nurses" story we've seen out of ProPublica and the L.A. Times, and while the issue's worth examining, seems to me there's an e

This is the second "bad nurses" story we've seen out of ProPublica and the L.A. Times, and while the issue's worth examining, seems to me there's an element of class discrimination to their focus.

I used to work as a medical fraud investigator, and during that time, I was shocked to discover that it was quite literally almost impossible for a doctor to permanently lose his license. I mean, there were doctors with ongoing drug and alcohol problems, doctors with falsified credentials, doctors who'd killed people - and they rarely got more than a slap on the hand and a temporary suspension.

So while it's of course a good idea to examine nurses, I'd like to see a similar examination of physicians, too:

Firms that supply temporary nurses to the nation's hospitals are taking perilous shortcuts in their screening and supervision, sometimes putting seriously ill patients in the hands of incompetent or impaired caregivers.

Emboldened by a chronic nursing shortage and scant regulation, the firms vie for their share of a free-wheeling, $4-billion industry. Some have become havens for nurses who hopscotch from place to place to avoid the consequences of their misconduct.

A joint investigation with the Los Angeles Times found dozens of instances in which staffing agencies skimped on background checks or ignored warnings from hospitals about sub-par nurses on their payrolls. Some hired nurses sight unseen, without even conducting an interview.

As a result, fill-in nurses with documented histories of poor care have fallen asleep on the job, failed to perform critical tests or stolen drugs intended to ease patients' pain or anxiety.

"A lot of them are really bad nurses," said Sandra Thompson, a nursing supervisor at Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Sherman Oaks Hospital, both in the San Fernando Valley. "Sometimes I see them here [at Northridge] and think, 'I wonder how long before I see them over' " at Sherman Oaks?

Some agencies are diligent about checking nurses' records, said Joey Ridenour, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Nursing.

Others are not. As a result, if wayward nurses want to work, "I think it's easier to hide in the registries," Ridenour said. "Some just sign them up."

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