WKYT Investigates | Emergency suspensions of nursing licenses can take days, weeks
The licensing board’s director says the process is working, but some upcoming changes will improve its efficiency.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) - The process is designed to protect the public: An emergency step - in the rare worst cases - to temporarily suspend a nurse’s license to practice while further disciplinary action is pending.
Under normal circumstances, a nurse can keep working while under investigation for a complaint filed against them. However, “when there is an urgent need to protect the health and safety of the public,” the Kentucky Board of Nursing can issue what is called an “immediate temporary suspension.”
But a WKYT Investigates analysis found that, in some cases, that step is not always quite as quick as it sounds. WKYT spent weeks digging through data, charting how long the process takes and asking why some cases take substantially longer than others.
“It boils down to due process for the licensee and burden of proof,” Kelly Jenkins, executive director of the Kentucky Board of Nursing told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “And the burden of proof is on us. Because if we take something to hearing and we don’t have a witness, then we’re not going to win.”
[READ MORE | Kentucky Board of Nursing disciplinary process]
The board oversees 90,000 licensees, including nurses, dialysis technicians and licensed certified professional midwives, Jenkins said. They receive anywhere from three to five complaints a day (about 1,400 complaints each year) to be handled by seven investigators.
Immediate temporary suspensions are rare.
In response to a WKYT open records request, the board provided a list of 179 nurses whose licenses were temporarily suspended for public protection purposes going back to 2017.
Among those on the list: Eyvette Hunter, who was indicted for murder after she was accused of causing the death of a 97-year-old patient by “intentional medical maltreatment.”
The incident occurred April 30, 2022, according to the ITS order. Her employer fired her that day. But it took 114 days - nearly four months - before an immediate temporary suspension was issued August 22.
Even after Hunter admitted to the incident in a response submitted to the board August 5, it was still another 17 days - more than two weeks - before her license was suspended.
In the meantime, with her nursing license still active, Hunter had been continuing to work at a different hospital until her indictment, suspension and arrest.
A WKYT Investigates analysis of dates and timelines for other cases with full disciplinary history reports and final orders available found multiple cases with gaps of days or weeks, even between the date a decision was made and the effective date of the immediate temporary suspension order.
“Every case is unique,” Jenkins said.
She outlined multiple factors that can impact how long it might take the board to issue an immediate temporary suspension:
- The fact-finding process takes time. It can take longer if the initial complaint lacks important details or if the facilities involved do not cooperate, Jenkins said.
- An immediate temporary suspension requires multi-review. Different steps and staff members are involved in it along the way. This is part of the due process for the nurse in question, because a complaint is just an allegation until proven otherwise.
- If the incident did not happen in Kentucky, but the nurse is still licensed or practices here, then the board is forced to rely on out-of-state boards to complete their investigations first. The Kentucky Board of Nursing does not have subpoena power in other states.
- The timing of the complaint can have an impact. COVID-19 slowed things down. The board works with police to time its efforts to make sure the board does not jeopardize a law enforcement investigation. Ongoing hearings for other cases can divert already-limited board staff and resources.
“We’re trying to make adjustments to staffing to expedite these cases,” Jenkins said.
[SEE MORE | WKYT Investigates]
Since Jenkins took over, she said the board has added a third staff attorney, a second paralegal and two law clerks. They are also taking new steps to modernize their software data management, which they believe will make the process more efficient.
“With this new system, we’ve even discussed when the initial complaint is being submitted that maybe we need to have a question on there that says, ‘Has patient injury occurred?’ An injury would include death. ‘Has harm occurred?’” she explained. “And make that something mandatory that we would know up front, and we would know that that needs to be elevated to a priority as far as our investigation process.”
That new system will also notify a facility if action is taken against one of its nurses.
The plan is to take that new system live in March.
In September 2022, Jenkins sent out a memo reminding nurses and nurse leaders that state law requires them to report all suspected violations, emphasizing the need for a timely report and important details, and underlining the risks to patients if they fail to do so.
The state also recently implemented mandatory workforce questions, Jenkins said, which, while captured at a particular snapshot in time, does allow for investigators to have some knowledge of nurses’ other places of employment.
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