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Nursing board has work to do

My View • Governor owes it to public safety to clean house

At last, the long-sought shake-up and appointment of the new executive director, Holly Mercer, to the Oregon State Board of Nursing is beginning to shed some light on the problems that advocates, families and employees have been trying to point out for a long time — almost 10 years. There is a lot yet to be done. Public safety still is in jeopardy. Uppermost on the to-do list is the removal of the current nursing board president, Jim McDonald, and the remaining board members. The past “culture” that seeks to protect nurses first and public safety second cannot be changed with McDonald at the helm. McDonald’s comments of “amazement” and “anger” in response to the latest investigative findings are a testament to how much he and the board were out of touch regarding the problems in the agency and their responsibility. Mercer’s early findings of problems speak for themselves, with more to come. She has just scratched the surface of the iceberg of issues within the nursing board. Her findings so far are more than sufficient evidence to support the “just cause” requirement needed for termination of the board. Where was the board when the Portland Tribune articles began to come out in 2006? When the audit was done in 2007? When repeated advocates’ testimonies at board meetings, legislative hearings, the Department of Justice and Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office all cited the need for an investigation of the nursing board problems that had gone unheeded for several years? McDonald’s comments blaming the media and political pressure for “jump-to-conclusion type of thinking” or his further comments regarding the nurse monitoring program problems as being “blown out of proportion” are a glaring example of how complacent and out of touch the nursing board was in its mission to protect the public from abusive nurses. Again, the findings — not only of the 2007 audit, but also of the current director — speak to the fact that monitoring and oversight of the program was almost nonexistent. Many vulnerable adults have fallen victim to substance-abusing nurses. The Oregon Revised Statutes regarding the powers, functions and duties of the nursing board clearly state that the board will “determine the qualifications of applicants for a license to practice nursing in this state and establish educational and professional standards for such applicants subject to the laws of the state” and that the board will “exercise general supervision over the practice of nursing in this state” (ORS 678.150). The current board has not fulfilled its mandate and should be replaced forthwith. In a discussion with a colleague recently about the dilemmas facing the nursing board, we came to a conclusion that I would like to share: What is wrong with the state of Oregon that it takes the tenacity of one reporter over a long period of time to get an agency to do right by the public it serves? The next move is up to the governor. Dolores Hubert is a resident advocate living in Northeast Portland.