Local nurses keep their licenses for more than a year after drug diversion first suspected

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The Tennessee Board of Nursing took more than a year on average to discipline area nurses for diverting drugs, according to a review of public records linked to cases with publicly releasable complaints.

A review of drug diversion disciplinary action taken against nurses from our area within the last year revealed after the state first received complaints about nurses, on average, it took roughly 400 days to take formal disciplinary action. In most cases, records show that disciplinary action came long after the nurses either admitted to diverting drugs or tested positive after a drug test.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Sullivan County Deputy District Attorney Gene Perrin said of our discovery. “It doesn’t surprise me and it frustrates me at the same time.”

Our investigation previously found the disciplinary process can take so long that some nurses are able to keep their licenses, find new jobs and put more patients at risk. We found instances of that occurring from here to Memphis.

“That offends me,” Perrin said.

Perrin says he has respect for the nursing board’s investigators who he says work hard to build solid disciplinary cases, but he says he can’t help but worry about the end of that process.

“My frustration has been you have this group of investigators that are working these cases up, many times hand-in-hand with our criminal investigators, our TBI agents, our office and yet it hits some road block and it just sits there in this administrative bureaucratic mess,” Perrin said.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health previously told us the agency has made changes to try and minimize future delays. The agency reports discipline often takes longer when the people at the center of investigations deny wrongdoing. In addition, by law, the nursing board also has to try and help rehabilitate nurses.

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R – Johnson City) says the department and nursing board are still actively involved in conversations about possible solutions. The chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee scheduled a special hearing for today to address the issue, but he says he had to reschedule the meeting due to other lawmakers’ calendars. That hearing is now expected to take place next month.

Perrin welcomes the statewide attention. He says he knows it’s not just a problem on this end of the state.

“My first thought is it’s long overdue,” he said. “We simply shared our frustrations, but we’re not unique. We’re not alone.”Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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