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Effective Immediately, California Takes Steps To Check Nurses’ Criminal Backgrounds (Part 1)

Posted by attorney Carina Castaneda

This is no longer “news." California regulators announced emergency measures to investigate criminal backgrounds of all registered nurses in the state. This was the result of a Los Angeles Times article which reported 115 cases where the state did not rescind a nurse’s license until 3 or more criminal convictions existed.

Dozens of nurses were convicted of crimes, including sex offenses and attempted murder and remained fully licensed to practice before the board acted against them. Some continue to have “spotless" licenses—even while serving time in prison. For example, nurse, Haydee Parungao is serving a 5 year federal prison sentence for confessing to billing for hundreds of visits that she never made and charging Medicare for more than 3 million. Yet, she remained in good standing with the board.

Among many other cases in which the board acted belatedly or not at all:

(1) A San Pedro nurse had convictions of receiving stolen property, possession of cocaine and possession of burglary tools before the board placed him on probation. He then went on to get arrested 2 more times of possession of cocaine and narcotic paraphernalia. But the board still did not take his license but instead extended probation.

(2) A Redding nurse had a total of 14 convictions from 1996, the year she was licensed. The charges varied from driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a suspended license and possession of narcotics. Finally, in 2006, the board took action against this person.

(3) A Calimesa nurse had a felony conviction for lewd and lascivious act with a child.

(4) An Orange County jury convicted a male nurse in 1994 of attempted murder of his wife. The judge stated on the record that the male nurse “hit her on the head with a hard object, pushed her to the ground, put towels in her mouth and over her head and struck her head against the floor." He was sentenced to life plus three years in prison. The board did not act until 8 years later after the nurse repeatedly attempted to renew his license while in prison. The license was finally revoked in 2003.

These are just some examples of the failure of the California Board of Registered Nursing to police its members. Today, if a nurse has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony during the renewal period (every 2 years), the board will review the conviction on a “case by case" basis. Registered nurses previously only had to report any criminal convictions upon employment and never again. California has 343,000 active registered nurses, the largest number in the nation.

The state had required applicants to submit their fingerprints starting in 1990 which enabled law enforcement to report to the board whenever a licensed nurse was arrested. But no fingerprint was required prior to 1990. As such, nearly 146,000 nurses went under the radar of detection.

The unanimous vote by the board to pass more stringent standards of fingerprinting and background checks every 2 years will require those nurses that have been undetected to quickly act in “rehabilitating" his/her record. I will detail the types of factors that the board uses in analyzing “rehabilitation" as to the issue of prior criminal convictions in my next article. But it is widely recognized that termination of probation and expungement of the criminal record are two vital keys to successfully maintaining one’s license.

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