The medical board closed the 27-year-old program last year.
But the board often defines success as completing the program. By that measure, it has lagged behind the medical board. Historically, about three-fourths of doctors who entered diversion finished it.
And the nursing board does not track nurses once they complete the program. Scott Bertrand, a Claremont nurse anesthetist, relapsed three months after graduating. In August 2005, he was caught injecting himself during a surgery with the painkiller fentanyl, which was intended for the patient. Afterward he admitted using opiates every workday for 10 to 12 weeks, according to his board disciplinary record.
Given a second chance at diversion, he was kicked out, according to his board record. Last year the board suspended his ability to work as a nurse anesthetist for one year and put him on probation.
Reached twice by telephone, Bertrand said he was busy and never called back.
The board almost certainly misses other cases like Bertrand's, addiction experts said.
"I'd want to know what their relapse rate is," said Dean Dabney, a criminal justice expert at Georgia State University, who has written about impaired practitioners. "That's your true indicator."
In this week's interview, Stanford initially stuck to her overall assessment of her diversion program as "a success."
Pressed on the flaws identified by reporters, however, she said officials were taking steps to "tighten it up."
One change in process, she said, is a requirement similar to that in New York -- in which new enrollees in diversion inactivate their licenses. Another would allow the state to investigate complaints even while nurses are in diversion, as the state of Washington does. A third would expedite legal action on cases in which nurses are considered "public safety threats."
"You're raking me over the coals," Stanford said to reporters. "I'm trying to work with the program to enhance it."
A fatal overdose
Chad Matheny's newspaper obituary said he died unexpectedly at his Cathedral City home May 19, 2008.
Just 32, Matheny was described as a loving husband and father, a musician and singer, a dedicated nurse and caregiver. Left unsaid: Matheny's death came after a years-long battle with drugs.
It was a fight the nursing board knew he was losing.
An autopsy found that he had died of an accidental overdose: of powerful painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Some of the drugs appeared to have been obtained by phoning prescriptions in under the name of the physician he worked for, the autopsy report said.
Matheny had been booted from the diversion program two years earlier, and the board had labeled him a public threat, saying he had a "complete lack of insight into addiction." But, with disciplinary proceedings pending, he could still work -- and score drugs. He died in bed, beside his wife.
Matheny's mother, Gaytha Minor, said the nursing board failed her son. But she is a veteran nurse herself -- and what most angers her is that the board didn't step in to protect the public.
"How many patients suffered because of my son?"
Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.