New rules for nurses

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The California Board of Registered Nursing unanimously approved emergency regulations Thursday requiring all of its licensees to submit fingerprints, allowing law enforcement agencies to flag the nursing board any time a nurse is arrested.

The move comes after a Times story earlier this month revealed that dozens of convicted criminals had kept their licenses for years.

The new rule will have the greatest effect on about 146,000 nurses who were licensed before 1990, when the board began requiring new applicants to provide fingerprints.

Assuming that the rules are approved by the state's Office of Administrative Law, nurses who have not been fingerprinted will have to do so when they renew their licenses, beginning in March.

At Thursday's meeting, the board's executive officer disclosed that her agency would add eight new positions to its enforcement program to act on new conviction information received from renewing nurses or from arrest notifications sent by the state Department of Justice or the FBI.

A joint investigation by The Times and ProPublica, an investigative reporting newsroom, found more than 115 cases since 2002 in which the nursing board failed to act against nurses' licenses until they had racked up three or more convictions. In 24 cases, nurses had at least five convictions.

The investigation also found cases in which the board had never acted against nurses convicted of sex offenses and Medicare fraud. At least one nurse is currently in prison; another was able to renew his license from there for years after being convicted of attempted murder.

After the article ran, the nursing board also said that, effective immediately, it would ask all nurses renewing their licenses if they had been convicted of crimes since their last renewal.

Carrie Lopez, director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the nursing board and more than 30 other professional licensing agencies, praised the board's vote Thursday.

"While the board was an early proponent of fingerprinting new license applicants, there has been a population of licensees that have been allowed to operate under the board's radar," she said in a statement. "The people of California expect much more from our regulatory entities."

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