Indiana lawmaker calls for closer look at board of nursing after I-Team 8 investigation

Indiana state Sen. Jean Breaux (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indiana lawmaker is calling for a closer examination of the state’s board of nursing after an I-Team 8 investigation uncovered a problem that granted active licenses to dozens of nurses, some of whom face criminal charges or discipline before the board.

The board’s failure to vote on some renewal applications in March allowed 44 nurses to receive automatic renewals for their licenses.

The nurses, many of whom faced discipline, criminal charges or had questionable work behavior, were all granted automatic renewals because of a little-known state law.

State law requires that the board take action within 120 days.

If it fails to do so, the licenses will be automatically renewed.

“It sounds like there is a flaw in that system that needs to be overviewed and evaluated,” Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis said. “Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Breaux is the ranking minority member of the Indiana Senate’s health committee. Breaux said that she thinks the issue needs a closer look and may require action before next year’s legislative session. She plans to potentially bring it up during a summer study committee.

“It’s certainly something that we need to understand, and if there is a problem that’s allowing 44 nurses approved to operate in a licensed manner – and we have not reviewed them – then they should not be given the ‘OK’ to practice,” Breaux told I-Team 8.

The board’s general counsel, Michael Minglin, said during an interview last month that the board lacked a quorum during its March meeting and did not have enough members to cast votes. But a statement from the executive director of the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, Deborah Frye, contradicted some of Minglin’s points.

“While there is one vacancy on the board, no board meetings have been canceled due to a lack of a quorum. The Professional Licensing Agency and the State Board of Nursing oversaw 109,936 licenses for the nursing profession from July 1 to October 31, 2015. Following the renewal cycle deadline, all renewal applications that warranted a personal appearance before the board – 1,413 practitioners in total – were scheduled, which had to be completed within 120 days of the renewal being filed with the board pursuant to statute,” the statement read.

But that didn’t happen. The board wasn’t able to get all of its work done and the net result was nurses who the board felt should either not be renewed or at least be monitored were granted active licenses.

Erin Somerville was among them.

In February, Somerville told the board of nursing that she “did not feel ready” to practice. Two months earlier, West Lafayette Police found her “blue and barely breathing,” according to court records. The court records indicate Somerville and a man  both admitted to overdosing on heroin while a small child was found crying in the next room. Somerville pleaded guilty in March to drug charges.

When we attempted to reach her, her grandmother said she was in a rehab facility.

Among the others renewed included: Katrina Motley, a nurse who as of June 2 was still facing criminal charges of writing illegal prescriptions as part of DEA investigation.

There were also nine nurses who the board had sought to deny a license after they failed to show up for their hearings.

Despite that, they were all renewed.

When I-Team 8 attempted to question the board about the discrepancy last month, the board’s president, Natalie Hall, refused to do an interview, saying that “she couldn’t do interviews.”

The board’s general counsel, Michael Minglin, said, “We are all concerned,” when I-Team 8 questioned him about the issues.

Frye refused a request by I-Team 8 for an on camera interview. Sen. Pat Miller, the long-standing chair of the Senate health committee, agreed to an interview but canceled on Friday. When we attempted to reschedule, an aide said she had rescinded the offer and asked that we contact IPLA.

Breaux placed some of the blame at the feet of Pence administration, alleging that the austere budgets for many of the professional agencies has led to problems.

“If this board is not functioning in the manner that it should, then there is a problem and we as a legislature need to fix that problem,” Breaux said.

An email sent to the governor’s spokeswoman seeking comment was not returned before news time.

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