Two days later, on Oct. 18, 2006, Currier was arrested when she returned to Verdugo Hills for more.
When the board settled the case in 2008, Currier's license was suspended for a year and she was put on probation. As part of the settlement, she admitted the allegations.
Currier is now free to practice with restrictions. She has declined to comment on her case.
Asked about delays in cases like this, in which a nurse has been deemed a public risk, diversion manager Stanford said: "That nurse still has due process. . . . You cannot go after a registered nurse in this state for falling out of treatment."
In some other states -- Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio, for instance -- nurses are booted from diversion much more quickly and disciplined sooner, according to interviews with regulators there.
"You can't stay in the program after one relapse, even one," said Julia George, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Nursing.
Leonard LaBella, Verdugo Hills Hospital's chief executive, said he was dumbfounded that the California board had not moved against Currier sooner.
"They might be overwhelmed," he said. "But this one, I think, might have floated to the top."
Risky honor system
At the moment, the main person responsible for protecting the public from a drug-addicted nurse in California is the drug-addicted nurse. It's a risky honor system.
Anette Ekelius, who landed in diversion for allegedly stealing drugs in April 2001, said she knew the rules -- she couldn't work without the board's permission. She also knew there was nothing to stop her. "I thought, 'This is good,' " she recalled. " 'I need to work. I need to pay my bills.' "
Ekelius got an unauthorized job as a temporary nurse at Torrance Memorial Medical Center that September, according to court records. She later pleaded guilty to stealing Demerol on her first -- also her last -- day. The hospital reported her to the board, but she remained in diversion.
Months later she took another job without permission, she said in an interview. At Corona Regional Medical Center, she appeared high and was accused of leaving a critically ill patient unattended, board records say.
Two days later, in February 2002, she was kicked out of diversion. She got another job and stole drugs before the board filed an accusation against her. Her license was revoked in August 2004.
"I was a good nurse, but not when I was using, obviously," said Ekelius, who said she is now sober.
Diversion manager Stanford said she doubted there were more than a handful of such cases but conceded she has no way of knowing for sure.
California regulators well know that diversion programs can fall dangerously short.