(Note: Updates, expands and replaces earlier post.)
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — A Republican state legislator who helped three nurse practitioners get their licenses back says he advocated for them because he felt their constitutional rights were violated. (It ‘offended me, constitutionally,” he said.)
Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport is one of two lawmakers who have acknowledged using their legislative positions to some degree to force the Tennessee Board of Nursing to reconsider the suspensions of Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was probing fatal overdoses among patients of the now defunct Appalachian Medical Center, where the nurse practitioners once worked, when the TBI began looking into whether lawmakers improperly intervened with the state board.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm told the Kingsport Times-News by email that the agency is investigating the nurses’ cases in a separate probe and has turned the matter over to Washington County District Attorney General Tony Clark.
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.
Shipley told a tea party group Tuesday night in Kingsport that he felt the need to help the nurses because they had failed to receive due process and had “exhausted all their means.”
“These people were never arrested,” Shipley said. “They were never sent off to jail. They went before a board of nursing, and a summary suspension removed their licenses.”
Shipley has told the Kingsport Times-News that he was directly involved in the nurses’ cases, saying he was the “rascal behind the scenes that made it happen.” He said that as a member of the Government Operations Committee, he took the position of blocking the extension of the nursing board until it heard the nurses’ arguments.
He questioned the nursing board’s extension on the House floor on May 20, 2010, according to the video of that day’s House session.
“Can we dissolve that board next year?” Shipley asked then-House Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Susan Lynn.
She responded: “Naturally any board can be dissolved at any time, but you would want to have a plan in place for the work the board does and how to get that work done.”
On May 12, 2010, Rep. Dale Ford also tried to hold up the board’s extension during a House session. The Jonesborough Republican called nursing board members a “bunch of witches on a witch hunt.”
“We don’t need to extend this. We need to cut it,” he told lawmakers. “They don’t care what we think. … It’s a kangaroo court.”
Ford has acknowledged that his wife was a clinic patient his sister worked there.
He told The Associated Press last week that he proposed a bill to create an oversight committee for the nursing board but withdrew it after the board agreed to “take another look” at the suspension of Reynolds, who owned the center, according to state records.
Ford told the AP that Shipley would “never do anything unethical or illegal, and neither would I.”