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Protecting the public is boards job

LETTERS • Readers respond to paper's investigation of Oregon State Board of Nursing

Thank you for the excellent and thorough articles about the Oregon State Board of Nursing (Nursing chaos, March 7, and Who's watching? March 10).

As a former registered nurse, now retired, I applaud you for the investigation. The board's apparent attitude and actions are appalling and hard to believe.

I only wish more people in the metro area, and all of Oregon, would read your articles and be enlightened. Maybe then there would be such an outcry that the board would be forced to change its practices.

Whether that force comes from the citizens themselves or from the state Legislature does not matter. What is at issue is the protection of the public.

Karen Johnson

Clackamas

Renewal of license proves a challenge

I took a break from the nursing profession in 1988 due to illness. I started working again in 1993 part time, then eventually moved up to full-time work again in a physician's office where having my license was not a requirement.

Now that I want to take a refresher course and get my license renewed, I am told by the state nursing board that Oregon is the only state that requires me to go back and start nursing school all over again and that my 30 years of experience count for nothing.

Gee, if I had kept sending in the license money but abused drugs and committed felonies, I could still have a valid registered nursing license!

Sally Choong

Boring

Real story is shortage of skilled nurses

As a registered nurse practicing in Oregon since 1978, I am frankly insulted by the attack on the nursing profession published by the Tribune under the guise of protecting public safety. More than 62,000 licensed nurses and nursing assistants work in Oregon; only 1 percent are ever the subject of a complaint to the state nursing board, and a very small minority of these complaints turn out to be substantiated.

The concept of due process in investigating these claims is one that your reporters apparently do not respect nor consider to be important.

It is particularly distressing to me that no one in the media has chosen to investigate the truly frightening patient safety issue that exists in this country due to the shortage of skilled nurses, and the attempts by health care institutions to cut costs by cutting licensed nursing care.

Strong data exists documenting negative patient outcomes with reductions in registered nursing care at the bedside. Patients are dying in this state and across the country every day due to lack of adequate nursing care. Where is the concern? When will you investigate this issue?

Mary Herrick

Southeast Portland

Unsafe staffing threatens patients

The failure of the Oregon State Board of Nursing to discipline rogue nurses is disturbing.

According to my friends who are nurses, what is even more disturbing and more of a threat to the safety of all patients is the unsafe staffing that is rampant in hospitals today. Though lip service is freely paid to the notion of quality patient care, management generally seems concerned primarily with revenue, even at the expense of adequate patient care.

I am told that managers have ridiculed safety reports, lowered standards and retaliated against whistle-blowers. Our state regulatory agency has been impotent to act even in the face of overwhelmingly credible evidence of unsafe staffing. Furthermore, this is contributing to the exodus of experienced nurses from their chosen profession.

I am concerned with reports that our loved ones are at risk daily due to the bottom-line business mentality that operates facilities seemingly with no moral compass. The public should be outraged and speak up at every opportunity.

The Legislature needs to ensure that the staffing laws for hospitals are fully enforced by providing stricter oversight of the Health Care Licensure and Certification section of the Department of Human Services. Staffing should be based upon the needs of patients rather than a profit margin.

Randie Friend Peterson

Southwest Portland

Reminder to board: First, do no harm

I have been a registered nurse since 1992. I received my training from a small community college in Iowa.

I knew that some nurses were under the influence of drugs, as they are so available to us, and that some were prone to steal from the very people they care for. But there are many of us out here who think this is appalling and damaging to the reputations of the nurses who take pride in their work and wouldn't think of doing such things.

I can see why some will take drugs, as nursing is a stressful job Ñ insufficient staffing, burnout and easy access to drugs can lead to such behavior.

As for stealing those drugs, in the right setting it's really easy for a person to take something that isn't theirs, thinking that the item will never be missed.

But taking someone else's life while caring for them is incomprehensible to me. We are here to make them better, in less pain and keep them comfortable when they are dying Ñ not to harm them.

I love being a nurse, think the world of all my patients and love to care for them. I think the state nursing board needs to rethink how they aren't punishing these people for the wrong that they do. How would they feel if it was their loved one who was hurt or killed by one of these nurses? Would they feel like the rest of us about that person? I know I sure would.

The Oregon board should speed the investigation process to get these people out of the profession. And it should look at other states' nursing boards to see how they deal with such people.

I know that in Iowa, they don't take their sweet time looking into such things. They aren't afraid to suspend or revoke licenses when need be.

Linda Hopkins

Beaverton

Drug treatment may serve to excuse crime

Reading the March 10 article (Who's watching?) about nurses under supervision for using narcotics, I noticed some interesting things. Employers can't tell by work history which nurses are supervised by the Nurse Monitoring Program.

Unlike expectations promoted by the urban mythology of addiction, these people do their jobs even while using drugs. Those supervised nurses who get in more trouble usually are caught for committing a crime Ñ such as stealing drugs Ñ rather than for incompetence.

To those familiar with the history of opiates, this isn't surprising. Dr. William Halsted, who invented the mastectomy, was a lifelong user. During the 20th century, a large percentage of opiate users were health professionals or members of their families.

That the Oregon State Board of Nursing isn't fully participating in the witch hunt that is the war on drugs perhaps demonstrates not that the board is incompetent, but that it's resisting a moral panic with no basis in real science.

Addiction is called a disease, yet no microbe, parasite, prion, birth defect or injury causes it. The belief in the disease called alcoholism was proposed before science discovered germs.

Considering the recent Harvard study showing that people were more likely to quit drinking without, than with, Alcoholics Anonymous (the tenets of which are the basis of most rehab programs), and Kimberly Cobrain of the monitoring program saying that 'relapse behavior is part of the recovery process,' one has to wonder what recovery programs are supposed to accomplish, anyway.

This question is especially important, since courts regularly sentence people to rehab and since much real crime is excused in society and in court because the offender has 'drug issues.'

Trish Randall

Vancouver, Wash.

Don't blame all for crimes by few

To control the problem with nurses stealing and/or using drugs (Nursing chaos, March 7), the police should adopt a policy that assumes all nurses are drug addicts and thieves. They should institute weekly, mandatory drug tests, require a substantial increase in annual licenses and if no fee or license is currently required, institute that policy.

They should also make it clear that a license can be revoked at any time and that the appeal process is not likely to change the revocation. Additionally, all information is to be submitted digitally and can be accessed by practically anyone who cares to see it.

At least, that is the attitude the police are taking toward the city's secondhand dealers, of which I am one.

The 99 percent of honest nurses and secondhand dealers are going to be made to pay for the few rogues whom we neither support nor make excuses for. Virtually all of us are just individuals making a living and supporting families, legally and responsibly.

The possible result of the proposed new regulations for secondhand dealers will make it difficult for most small shops to afford or comply with them due to lack of personnel, computer knowledge and time.

Place the emphasis and put the money into correcting the lawbreakers. Wasting it on the law abiders results in no gains against the lawbreakers and, most likely, in lower tax revenues as these independent businesspeople have to find other means of making a living.

Sol Varon

Oregon Antique Jewelry Co.

Downtown Portland