In the fall of 2013, the Star Tribune published a five-part series, “When Nurses Fail,” an investigation by staff reporter Brandon Stahl of how Minnesota protects the public from unsafe nurses. The stories showed how the state Board of Nursing rarely threw nurses out of the profession for unsafe conduct, how nurses could commit drug-related misconduct while under state monitoring, how background check flaws allow problem nurses to keep their licenses and how nurses who lose jobs after allegations of misconduct can find new ones. The reporting revealed a strikingly lenient attitude toward discipline of problem nurses, who were given chance after chance, especially if their misconduct was related to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The backbone of the project was a database Stahl created from more than 1,000 enforcement actions against problem nurses. He also examined hundreds more records of neglect and maltreatment investigations and criminal and civil court cases. Patterns emerged from his research: More than 260 nurses have licenses despite records of unsafe practice, including botched care that harmed patients. Nurses whose neglect led to patient deaths were told to take courses, while at least 112 nurses were licensed to practice despite thefts of drugs on the job, fraudulent prescriptions or practicing while impaired. Stahl's reporting has exposed serious flaws in the oversight of the largest population of health professionals, and in the process opened a conversation about patient harm that has already shown dramatic results. It's the kind of public service reporting that policy makers and ordinary Minnesotans count on from the Star Tribune.
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