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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California board that regulates the nursing industry falsified its records to make it appear it was properly investigating allegations made against the state’s nurses, including serious complaints such as patient harm that can lead to nurses losing their licenses.

That was revealed in a scathing new report on Tuesday from the California State Auditor, who in 2016 found the board was slow to assign and review complaints that ranged from medical misconduct to the death of a toddler.

The audit directed the board to get a move on clearing its backlog of pending investigations against nurses.

Instead, three executives at the board in late 2018 hurried to distribute cases among staff on paper, pretending that no one investigator was handling more than 20 cases, according to the auditor.

The findings are the latest rebuke to the Board of Registered Nursing by the auditor, Elaine Howle, whose office has released several critical reports of the board in recent years. Next month Howle is expected to release findings from a separate investigation reviewing whether the board is properly overseeing nursing schools.

The nine-member nursing board, which approves all licenses for registered nurses in the nation’s most populous state, has also been rocked by inner turmoil. Its former executive director, Joseph Morris, resigned in mid-February after several women working for the board accused him of sexual harassment.

In 2016, the auditor said the backlog of cases led to nurses who were a risk to patients keeping their jobs. Typically, complaints against licensed nurses can include unprofessional conduct, drug use and negligence, according to the board.

In one case, the board took a year and a half to assign a complaint that alleged a nurse caused the death of a toddler by giving the wrong dosage of a medication. The nurse was allowed to practice for over three years while the complaint was being processed.

In response to those findings, the board pledged no investigator would have more than 20 cases at a time and in a 2018 report to the auditor claimed it had met its goal. The auditor accepted that report as legitimate. Soon after, the board moved those cases back to their original investigators.

“The executives’ obstruction violated state law and constituted gross misconduct,” the audit says.

The board began its own review of those two unnamed executives two weeks ago when it received a draft of the auditor’s report, according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the board. The third executive had already left the agency.

Heimerich said the department will “immediately” work on fixing the issue of caseloads. “We will also begin a department-wide initiative to ensure that this can never happen again,” he wrote in an email.

Throughout March, as the coronavirus pandemic led to a scramble to find more medical workers in the state, dozens of nursing schools also blasted the nursing board for trailing other states in easing regulations for their students to graduate and get their licenses.

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Nurse-Family Partnership stands with Minnesota moms to fight COVID, racism, poverty

Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19 or George Floyd, well before the surging pandemic and the dramatic social justice demonstrations held the globe in their grip, the World Health Organization had named 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

No one could have anticipated just how appropriate that commemoration would prove to be. As so many internet memes, driveway chalk drawings and yard signs proclaim, not all superheroes wear capes.

Across Minnesota, Nurse-Family Partnership nurses have continued throughout the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests to support first-time, low-income moms with telehealth visits providing nursing assistance and vital emotional support.

On the front lines

For nearly 20 years, NFP nurses in Minnesota have been quietly competent. Now, they are on the front lines, bringing their extraordinary interpersonal and professional skills to the sometimes-overwhelming challenges that have affected every Minnesotan.

Their superpower is trust.

NFP nurses work one-on-one with moms through pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life. They develop relationships built on mutual respect and dedication to one goal: healthy families. These critical partnerships enable mothers and their nurses to work as a team to quickly address emotional, physical or developmental challenges that may arise.

During the difficult months of sheltering in place, NFP nurses provided iPhones to moms in need through a partnership with Verizon and Action Technologies Group. They enabled them to continue regular contact with moms, providing critical support through these often trying and anxiety-filled days when home visits aren’t possible.

Connection to services, coaching

In addition to the care they provide directly, NFP nurses connect moms with services that can help them cope in tough times. Access to public health and social services in parts of rural Minnesota is sparse and many families are not aware of how to find those that do exist.

Jim WelschThe nurses also coach moms in the skills to advocate successfully for themselves and their children. They help them build confidence and competence.

Across the United States where NFP operates, more than 317,000 families have been served. Randomized control trials have found that the program reduces child abuse and neglect cases by 48 percent and cuts emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings by 56 percent. The presence of fathers in the household is increased by 46 percent in Nurse-Family Partnership families.

NFP benefits all of us by addressing homelessness, injustice, inequity and the myriad impacts of poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunity. It is supported through private donations and public funding, and every dollar spent on NFP saves a remarkable $5.70 for high-risk families.

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement

In a recent statement, Frank Daidone, president and CEO of Nurse-Family Partnership, said the organization stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“At Nurse-Family Partnership, we see the detrimental and life-threatening impacts that structural racism has on the women in our program. When Black women are three times more likely to die in our country from pregnancy-related causes than white women, there is a real and urgent problem. This is a matter of public health. It is also a matter of equity and justice.”

I am proud to support Nurse-Family Partnership in Minnesota, and it has never been more important to support the work of an organization that is proven to end the cycle of poverty in vulnerable families and build strong communities. In celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, what better way to honor the heroes in our midst than to support an organization that gives Minnesota families what they need not just to survive, but to thrive.

Jim Welsch is co-chair of the Minnesota Nurse-Family Partnership Community Advisory Board, and lives in Minneapolis.


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