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New president must act swiftly

The Oregon State Board of Nursing doesn’t yet sound like a group bent on reform. When the board elected a new president last week, Oregon citizens might have wanted to hear reassurances that the board would immediately begin work to change its practices and do a better job of protecting the public. Instead, the new board president, James McDonald, seems dismissive of a recent report from the state Department of Administrative Services that identified critical areas where oversight of nurses must improve. McDonald says he believes the nursing board already is addressing most of the issues identified in the DAS report, including the need to report nurses’ possible criminal behavior to law-enforcement officials. And he says that problems with the nursing profession in Oregon have been overstated in the media. The media that McDonald refers to is the Portland Tribune, whose reporting about activities of the nursing board and alleged abuses by nurses prompted Gov. Ted Kulongoski to launch an investigation of the agency and its board. We agree with McDonald when he points out that every profession has a few members who engage in criminal behavior, have mental-health problems, or become addicted to drugs or alcohol. But not all professions have the power to damage patients’ health due to poor practices or outright criminal acts. In the past two years, the Tribune has covered numerous stories of individuals or families who have suffered heartbreak because of nurses who should have had their licenses revoked. Those families, and all Oregonians, expect the state nursing board to protect their safety and well-being over the employment of questionable nurses. It is far too early to criticize McDonald’s performance as president. But what we’ve heard so far doesn’t give us confidence that the nursing board, despite the recent departure of its top two staff administrators, is yet ready to confront the profession’s problems in a direct and assertive manner. What we want from McDonald and other board members is an awareness of the urgency needed to pursue these reforms. The important thing is, How quickly do they act and how seriously do they take their responsibility to protect the citizens of this state?