Posted by Bill Sandweg on 06 June 2022.
The Covid pandemic has made the nursing shortage worse. One of the results of the nationwide nursing shortage has been an increase in the number of traveling nurses, nurses who work for a staffing service and who are sent from hospital to hospital on a temporary basis. The near constant movement of these nurses makes it even more difficult than usual for state nursing boards to keep track of nurses and to exercise supervision and discipline. Sometimes, these traveling nurses are on the move one step ahead of the sheriff.
Today’s story is about a traveling nurse from the Southeast, who stands accused of tampering with vials of narcotics and then returning the contaminated vials to the hospital supply cabinet. She was discovered when another nurse noticed something unusual about a vial of a potent painkiller in the cabinet. It looked at though it had been tampered with. It appeared the top had been removed and then glued back on. The hospital removed the vials that appeared to have been tampered with and sent them to the state crime lab for analysis. The crime lab reported that the contents did not match the manufacturer’s specifications. Someone had taken some of the painkiller and refilled the vial before replacing the top. By the time of the state crime lab report, however, the nurse had left the state and was working at a hospital in a different state.
The hospital at which the vials were tampered with now had a big problem. Had the nurse just taken narcotics? Had the nurse taken narcotics in such a way that what was left behind was contaminated? Had patients who received narcotics before the tampering was discovered been exposed to HIV or hepatitis or any of a number of illnesses? How to determine who might have been exposed and warn them? The hospital believes that as many as 100 patients may have been exposed to the contaminated vials.
Meanwhile, at the new hospital, the pattern repeated itself. The nurse was suspected of tampering with narcotics vials and then replacing them in the hospital supply. The new hospital also turned over to law enforcement vials suspected of having been opened. The results of testing on those vials is not yet available.
Authorities in Tennessee, where the nurse was first suspected of tampering have issued arrest warrants for her.
It is hard enough for the state nursing boards to keep track of the nurses working in their state when the nursing population is stable. The problem is compounded when nurses move easily and frequently from state to state. There must be a high level of communication between the state boards to assure consistent monitoring and discipline. The need for strong regulation and discipline is further exacerbated by the move on the part of many states faced with a shortage of nurses to dumb down the requirements to be allowed to practice as a nurse. No nursing school diploma? No problem.
The public deserves to have nurses who are well-educated and well-trained. The public also deserves to have these nurses well-supervised and the subject of thoughtful, consistent discipline. It is time for the various states to spend the money that it takes to make sure the nurses practicing in the state are properly trained and disciplined.