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Does your nurse have a criminal background? Why you'll likely never know

Every day in U.S. hospitals, nursing homes and health care clinics; nurses are on the front lines of patient care. When faced with a health problem or emergency it's imperative that patients feel confident in and can trust and rely upon the medical professionals who have pledged to keep them safe and healthy. While the vast majority of nurses throughout the U.S. and in New York State are competent health care professionals, there are some who directly violate or fail to meet professional and legal standards.

A recent investigation by Propublica, WNYC and Albany Times Union provides disturbing details about several cases in New York where nurses who commit crimes are allowed to retain their nursing licenses.

In the state of New York, nursing licenses are handled by the Office of the Professions which is under the supervision and control of the New York Department of Education. According to ProPublica, nursing boards in at least 37 states require that nurses undergo background and criminal checks prior to receiving and renewing their nursing licenses. New York State, however, has no such requirements. As a result, nurses who are convicted of felonies, steal prescription drugs and assault and neglect patients are often allowed to retain their licenses and continue to practice, thereby putting the safety and very lives of patients at risk. 

To compare the state's woefully insufficient disciplinary record against those of other states; ProPublica found that, during 2014, the Office of Professions took disciplinary action against roughly one out of every 1,190 licensed nurses. Comparatively, in Ohio disciplinary action was taken against 1 out of every 153 nurses and in Texas, one out of every 167 nurses. These alarming statistics are further proof of a failed system that time and time again, fails to protect patients. Even in cases where the Office of Professionals does take disciplinary action, months or even years may pass before any decision is made with regard to a nurse’s license suspension or revocation.

Individuals in New York State who know or suspect that they or a family member suffered harm or injury due to the negligence of a nurse should feel empowered to come forward and report cases of negligence, misconduct or criminal acts. An attorney who handles medical malpractice claims can assist in seeking justice for victims of nursing negligence and medical malpractice.

Source: ProPublica.org, "Weak Oversight Lets Dangerous Nurses Work in New York," Daniela Porat, Rosalind Adams and Jessica Huseman, April 7, 2016

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