New York state slow to investigate serious nursing complaints, state audit finds

The New York State Education Department, which regulates the licensure and practices of nurses in the state, fails to meet its own standards when monitoring criminal behavior and investigating serious complaints against these frontline caregivers, according to a state audit released Sept. 29.

Here are three things to know.

1. The Office of the New York Comptroller conducted the audit and found the department completes investigations into high-priority complaints against nurses in an average of 228 days, rather than the required 42 days. High priority complaints often include allegations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as working under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, New York does not require background checks for nurses and relies on these caregivers to self-disclose criminal activity once every three years during the license renewal process.

"The State Education Department has clear policies and procedures for vetting potential nurses and monitoring and investigating those on the job, but my auditors found the department is not always meeting its own goals, which is potentially putting patients' health and safety at risk," said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. "SED has taken steps to improve the process but more is needed to identify the few bad actors from the many responsible professionals who've chosen nursing as their career."

2. ProPublica published an investigative report into New York state's lax nursing regulation last year. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the comptroller's office, told ProPublica its report was a factor in the investigation.

3. The audit recommends the education department work to streamline and more closely track investigations into nurses, and bolster its oversight of "moral character requirements."

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