State Reps. Tony Shipley and Dale Ford readily admit they used legislation to prod the state Board of Nursing toward reversing a decision to void the licenses of three Northeast Tennessee nurses.. They told reporters Tuesday that there was nothing inappropriate in their actions, but apparently suggestions of strong-arm tactics by the two Republican lawmakers is what inspired a TBI investigation.
It appears the most thorough account in today’s reporting on the TBI probe comes from the Kingsport Times-News. Excerpts:
In reference to the TBI probe, Shipley said, “The story should be ‘legislator does job,’ you know, as opposed to suggesting that there was anything inappropriate.”
Shipley said he is scheduled to meet with a TBI investigator next week. He said the investigator contacted him by text or e-mail on Monday and said, “‘I want to talk to you about Appalachian Medical.’ ….’ He said, ‘I need to reach out to you.’ There was no questioning. He said, ‘I want to come see you.’ At that time I had no idea what was going on.”
Shipley said he has no plans to retain counsel. “I intend to talk to them, and I feel extremely comfortable that everything we did was in the light of day, it was in front of a lot of people all the time. I mean, I have no concerns about it one way or the other.”
Shipley said prior to learning of this investigation, he was, “pretty much done with this whole issue, you know, these people were beginning to get their lives put back together. Now they’ve turned to bite the hand of the legislators who forced the state to re-evaluate the facts and look at them through the lens of honesty and truth, and that’s exactly what we did.”
He described the health department as a “willing partner” once they realized a mistake had been made.
“We had very strong conversations, but when it was clear that there was evidence available that changed the outcome of their initial ruling, they stepped up to the plate, and they said, we need to fix this. I brought it to the table of course, but they did that on their own,” he said.
With regard to the nurses, Shipley said, “They were denied due process. That is what I fixed. And I would do it again. I will do it again, when confronted with the same situation.”
In May, Shipley said that as an officer of the Government Operations Committee, he “took the position of blocking the extension of the board,” until they agreed to listen to their argument. He said a yearlong battle ensued before the board finally agreed to take another look at the evidence.
During the last three or four months of that period of time, Shipley said he had someone from the Department of Health in his office – from the legislative coordinator “all the way up to a deputy commissioner” – engaged in “sometimes heated discussion” toward that end.
In April, Shipley advocated a House amendment to reduce the number of nursing board members and require having seven board members present before issuing a summary suspension.
But a Senate bill to extend the nursing home board’s life passed in the Legislature without the amendment.
… “Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, who assisted Shipley’s efforts, opined, “This is clearly a vindictive move (on the nursing board’s part) because Tony and I went after the nursing board for what I thought was overstepping their bounds.
” I was protecting my constituents just like I would do you or them or anybody else. I don’t have anything to be scared about. They can investigate all they want, but I did some digging and everybody who’s been written up who went down to Nashville for a hearing (before the Board of Nursing) since 2003 has been disciplined. Everybody is not guilty.”
“It all stemmed from one thing: I wrote a bill to put in an oversight panel and when they issue a major fine or major penalty of any kind to close your doors, we would look at both sides of the evidence. (The nursing board) said if I would pull that bill they would reconsider the summary suspension on Bob Reynolds, and the state of Tennessee had 38 summary suspensions,” said Ford.
Note: Ford actually filed two bills. He apparently refers to HB428, sponsored by Sen. Rusty Crowe in the Senate, that would have set up a legislative oversight committee to review “acute adverse actions” by state boards, such actions being any fine of more than $1,000 or suspension of license for more than seven days. The legislation was taken “off notice”on March 29.
The Times-News also quotes a TBI spokeswoman as saying the TBI raided the office of Appalachian Medical Center (which employed the nurses) in 2007, with investigators calling it a “pill mill” that contributed to 47 patient deaths in two years. No charges have been filed. That investigation continues.
The Tennessean says the investigation questions whether the legislators’ actions were “strong arm tactics” that went too far and puts the independence of the Board of Nursing in issue.
Sharon Adkins, executive director of the Tennessee Nurses Association, said the profession is closely watching the case.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for special interests to put undue pressure on the board to reverse their judgments,” Adkins said.
The board last year suspended the licenses of Bobby D. Reynolds, Tina Killebrew and David Stout, then reversed itself this May. The three nurses from Johnson City, who have not been charged with any crime, are the focus of an investigation, said Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The story also refers to Shipley trying to block, for a time, the “sunset” bill to continue the existence of the state Board of Nursing. (It was SB170, passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 77-17 vote in the House. Shipley and Ford voted for the bill; all no votes came from Demcorats.
…Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, said Shipley “was leading the charge because he is on the Government Operations Committee. to not extend the Board of Nursing’s ability to continue to exist. All these boards, if their sunset is not extended, they basically cease to exist.”
And this background from the AP’s story:
When the board suspended the licenses, it found that the three nurse practitioners failed to properly order diagnostic tests for patients before prescribing painkillers, continued to prescribe pain medication to patients identified by law enforcement as illegally selling the drugs and prescribed controlled substances to each other, according to minutes of the meeting. Two patients died of drug overdoses, the TBI said.
The board decided in May to restore the nurses’ licenses after hearing petitions claiming that the board had not heard certain details about the deceased patients.
For instance, the nurses contended one patient had been crushing medications and injecting them via either an IV line or needle, and that the same patient had consumed 15 times the prescribed amount of oxycodone in a three-hour time frame, according to documents from the state health department.
As for the investigation, Helm said no state lawmakers have been interviewed and that the TBI has only been speaking with department of health officials. She declined to offer any names of lawmakers involved in the investigation, and said none of the nurses have been charged.