YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Every year, the state of Ohio receives 10,000 complaints about nurses.
These complaints range from small and minor to accusations of felony theft and malpractice. 27 Investigates reporter Amanda Smith takes a look at how many nurses in Youngstown are losing their licenses.
Nursing colleges around the state teach ethics and professional behavior in almost every class. Youngstown State University invited Smith to observe one of their classes this week.
Students at YSU are taught how to do medical procedures. But they are also taught how to properly use social media and how to avoid violating patient privacy.
Some criminal charges mean they just won’t become a licensed nurse in Ohio. The chair of the nursing department said students are screened before they are accepted into the nursing program.
“We have had students that have made some bad decisions, as far as DUI and perhaps battery and those types of things that have cause them to have issues with taking licensure,” YSU nursing department chair Nancy Wagner said.
Nurses have to stay out of trouble to keep their licenses too. In November, 15 nurses from the Mahoning Valley faced license suspension. Many had been convicted of felony drug charges.
But they were accused of crimes years before their suspensions.
A dangerous loophole in Ohio law means that nurses who have been arrested could continue in their jobs for years after their arrests.
For example, in March 2013, Nurse Nikkilah West was arrested with heroin in her car. She was convicted of felony possesion in October of that year. But it was not until November, a full year later, that the state suspended her license.
The suspension was published three months later, in the February edition of the State Nursing Board Magazine.
Because the arrest happened outside of West’s job, her employer is not listed in official records.
“Certainly if there are issues of revocation, they are made public but the question is, is it necessary and appropriate for the board to be proactive in that?,” State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, said.
Employers usually know about problems. In Warren, Trumbull Memorial Hospital cooperated with the state investigation into Pamela Meade, a nurse anesthetist convicted of stealing powerful drugs on the job.
In Austintown, Austinwoods notified police and the state when Brandy Stroup admitted stealing pain pills from residents for her own use. She was convicted of theft of drugs.
In some cases, the employer was not involved in the proceedings.
“The investigatory process is confidential. The board only contacts those necessary to complete the investigation,” Cafaro said.
Student nurses know their actions on and off the job have real-world impact.
“We talk about professionalism and behavior throughout our curriculum,” one student said.
Wagner said the Ohio State Board of Nursing sends out an application renewal for the license every two years.
“And there is a number of questions professional nurses have to answer and if they have any type of citation, they would have to answer that truthfully,” Wagner said.
Cafaro said notification needs to happen sooner.
“All efforts should be made by the board if possible to notify the last place of employment or the current employer that there is going to be disciplinary action taken,” she said.
The state nursing board gave Smith the records, but did not grant her request for an interview.
There are 300,000 people with licenses in the state and every year, 10,000 complaints are made against working nurses. The state board has to investigate each and every one.