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Many Hospitals Not Allowed Access to Names of Disciplined Nurses, Pharmacists

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 27, 2009

Some 100,000 health providers disciplined for abuse, fraud, and other kinds of harm may still be treating patients because a law requiring disclosure of their records to potential employers has gone unimplemented for 22 years, prohibiting hospitals from knowing about their practitioners' questionable backgrounds.

That's a charge from Public Citizen and its director Sidney Wolfe MD, who sent the Obama Administration a sharply-worded letter yesterday urging that the regulation finally be put in place.

The advocacy group wants hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers to have access to the federally run Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB). The bank contains disciplinary action reports on these non-physician caregivers, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse aides, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, physician assistants, and respiratory and physical therapists.

Some 5,000 U.S. hospitals and 700 nursing homes are allowed to have access to the bank's records under Section 1921 of the Social Security Act of 1987, but many presidential administrations have failed to finalize the regulation that would make that access a reality.

"We know that these health professionals now can jump from one hospital in one state, to another, and unbeknownst to that hospital, have a record that would make that hospital not hire them," Wolfe says. "And if they did know it and still hired them, they would be on the wrong side of a conclusion in a lawsuit."

In a statement yesterday, Wolfe said, "Many of these workers would not have jobs in the healthcare field if their current employers knew about their checkered pasts. Keeping these records secret greatly increases the chance that patients will be injured or killed at the hands of their caretakers."

In the six-page letter,  Wolfe and staff researcher Al Levine told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that "this secrecy ensures that though they have been disciplined one or more times, many in multiple states, such healthcare workers can get jobs at hospitals or nursing homes because their employers lack awareness" of their past activities.

The letter noted that as of Dec. 31, 2007, the bank's database contains the names of more than 40,000 nurses sanctioned for healthcare violations, including unsafe practice or substandard care, misconduct or abuse, fraud, deception, misrepresentation, and improper prescribing, dispensing or administration of drugs.

It also contains the names of more than 49,000 licensed practical nurses and nurse aids sanctioned for similar healthcare—related violations.

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