Sanctions Against Texas Nurses On The Rise
In Texas there has been a substantial increase in nurses being disciplined by the state and losing their licenses.
Year after year, nursing ranks as the most trusted profession in the country, but even nurses make mistakes. The state is citing them for one type of crime more than any other.
Dante Fair found that out the hard way. The 29-year-old father died after registered nurse Dana Tackett hit him head-on driving the wrong way just outside of Killeen on Highway 130 in 2013.
Hours before, Tackett left a hospital and went drinking. Tests revealed her blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit.
"Once I found out that she was a registered nurse, [I thought] you should have been at the scene helping, not causing the accident," said Julia Fair, Dante's mother.
A jury sentenced Tackett to 15 years in prison, and she lost her nursing license. Tackett is one of nearly 1,000 Texas nurses in trouble with the law over the past two years.
Linda Woodman, a registered nurse in Austin, also hit and killed someone while under the influence. Tonya Baker is another nurse. Law enforcement arrested the former Round Rock school nurse for possession of meth in 2013.
The rate of registered nurses losing their licenses or getting sanctioned have markedly increased. In 2003, the state sanctioned and revoked 1,090 licenses. Last year, it climbed to 2,025, an 85 percent increase.
Complaints against registered nurses: 2003: 2,378 2014: 9,411
Licenses Revoked: 2003: 150 2014: 259
Licenses Sanctioned: 2003: 940 2014: 1,766
The Texas Board of Nursing said those numbers represent a small portion of all nurses.
"I would point out that still remains sort of less than two percent of our population," said Dusty Johnson, the board's general counsel.
Johnson attributed the increase to more people getting into the profession and tougher background checks.
The state's registered nurse population has increased 55 percent, from 176,757 in 2203 to 274,143 in 2015
Until 2005, the state allowed nurses to self-report crimes. Nurses must now provide finger prints when renewing their licenses.
It was also found most nurses sanctioned by the state for committing crimes involved drugs or alcohol. Some were caught stealing prescriptions and others were arrested for DWI.
"It certainly puts the patient at risk, and we have a primary obligation as nurses for patient safety," said Cindy Zolnierek, the executive director for the Texas Nursing Association.
While nurses can get in trouble for not reporting a DWI, the state still gives them a free pass on their first offense.
"A single DWI. If that's all a nurse ever did, that should not result in any disciplinary action," said Johnson.
Dante's widow, Amanda Luttmer, thinks the state should have a no-tolerance policy.
"You just expect more out of those people, I guess you can say," said Luttmer.
If the state identifies a nurse with a drug or alcohol problem, they can admit themselves into a voluntary rehab program to keep their license.
To report a problem with a nurse, contact the Texas Board of Nursing.
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Liz Di Bernardo