NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Charges will not be filed against two state lawmakers who used heavy-handed tactics to help three nurse practitioners get their licenses back, the Davidson County District Attorney General said Monday.
Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew were accused of over-prescribing medications at the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Clinic in Johnson City, where the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was probing patient deaths. The nurses agreed to the suspensions, but Reps. Dale Ford and Tony Shipley later pressured the Tennessee Board of Nursing to take a second look.
Ford filed a bill to create a committee that would review the board’s disciplinary actions. And Shipley tried to stall legislation that would have extended the life of the nursing board.
Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson said in a news release that Shipley’s and Ford’s actions were questionable, but not criminal.
Shipley said they did nothing wrong.
“There were no questionable tactics on our part,” he said. …”All we asked was that (the nurses) be given a fair and open hearing.”
According to the district attorney’s account, the TBI had been looking into the medical center deaths for some time when on March 11, 2010, the nursing board took emergency action to suspend the three nurses.
Over the next six months, lawyers representing the Department of Health and the nurses engaged in extensive settlement negotiations. Eventually, all three nurses signed consent orders that included numerous factual findings of unprofessional conduct.
The nurses agreed not to contest the suspensions and to pay civil penalties and the costs of the proceedings. However, it was agreed that if they met numerous terms and conditions, they could return to nursing in the future.
The report of the nurses’ actions was reviewed independently by a peer panel that also recommended they be disciplined.
However, at the nursing board meeting on May 5, 2011, a Health Department attorney presented new consent orders dismissing the disciplinary actions. The attorney claimed that there were defects in the previous orders and that there was compelling new evidence that justified setting them aside.
According to the district attorney’s office, there is no record of any procedural defect or compelling new evidence, but the board voted unanimously to rescind the previous discipline and reinstate the licenses of all three nurses.
Johnson said in the release that the board “caved to perceived political pressure.”
“This is not how government is supposed to work, but it is not a crime since these lawmakers did not personally benefit from their actions nor did they individually have the actual power to harm the Board, the Department, or its employees,” Johnson said.
Shipley, however, said the pressure they applied was exactly how government is supposed to work.
He said that he and Ford applied “legislative oversight” to the board after the nurses had their lives destroyed without being given a chance to defend themselves.
“These people, I mean they were brutalized by the state. It must never happen again,” he said.
Shipley also vowed to investigate who had complained about the lawmakers’ actions, saying it is a felony to provide a false report to a district attorney.
Ford, who has acknowledged that his wife was a clinic patient and his sister worked there, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ford previously told The Associated Press that Shipley would “never do anything unethical or illegal, and neither would I.”
The initial TBI investigation into the deaths of patients at the clinic was launched in 2005. That investigation is still open.
Note: The full District Attorney’s news release is HERE. An excerpt:
“The Board of Nursing is responsible for protecting the public from the dangers of unfit, incompetent, or unprofessional nurses,” says Johnson. “In this case, the Board did precisely that, only to be subjected to heavy-handed tactics by two state legislators, aided and abetted by some former employees of the Department of Health. Regrettably, both the Board and the Department of Health caved to perceived political pressure and set aside the previous discipline that all parties had agreed to.
“This is not how government is supposed to work, but it is not a crime since these lawmakers did not personally benefit from their actions nor did they individually have the actual power to harm the Board, the Department, or its employees. In the end, this is a case of political hardball, but not political corruption.”
“Any time there is an issue of possible public corruption, it warrants our further investigation, as we take these complaints very seriously,” says TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “A number of TBI agents have been actively engaged for some time in interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents as part of this investigation. In addition, we have consulted frequently with representatives of the Davidson County District Attorney’s office, and the State Attorney General’s office.”
Several of the principals at the Department of Health left that office after the two legislators initiated their involvement. Others left at the conclusion of the TBI probe.