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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 26, 2009
1:48 PM

CONTACT: Public Citizen

Phone: 202-588-1000

Obama Administration Must Make Disciplinary Records of Nurses, Health Workers Available to Hospitals, Nursing Homes

Public Citizen Urges Secretary Sebelius to Protect Patients from Unsafe and Unscrupulous Health Care Workers

WASHINGTON - August 26 - More than 22 years after the federal government started tracking serious disciplinary actions against non-physician health workers, the infractions - everything from fraud and abuse to improperly prescribing drugs - are still kept secret from most hospitals and many nursing homes doing background checks of potential employees, according to a letter Public Citizen sent today to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank contains discipline records for more than 100,000 nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and other non-physician health workers. However, HHS has failed to finalize a regulation that would implement a 1987 law that would allow access to the records to more than 5,000 U.S. hospitals and about 700 nursing homes.

"Many of these workers would not have jobs in the health care field if their current employers knew about their checkered pasts," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "Keeping these records secret greatly increases the chance that patients will be injured or killed at the hands of their caretakers."

Today's letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius points out that as of Dec. 31, 2007, the health care data base listed:

  • More than 40,000 nurses sanctioned for health care-related violations, including unsafe practice or substandard care (23,551 reports), misconduct or abuse (10,930 reports), fraud/deception/misrepresentation (3,437 reports), and improper prescribing/dispensing/administering drugs (7,526 reports).
  • More than 49,000 licensed practical nurses and nurse aides sanctioned for health care related violations such as unsafe practice or substandard care (16,110 reports), misconduct or abuse (12,197 reports), fraud/deception/misrepresentation (4,247 reports), and improper prescribing/dispensing/administering drugs (4,634 reports).

HHS and the Office of Management and Budget should immediately issue the Section 1921 regulation, which would allow hospitals and nursing homes to access the information in the health care database, Wolfe said.

READ the letter to Sebelius.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.


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