The Nurse Licensure Compact sounds like a good idea…in theory. In order to help get nurses to high-need areas, 24 states have banded together, agreeing that nurses who gain a license to practice in a Compact state are automatically allowed to practice in other participating states, without having to go through additional licensing procedures. In an ideal world, the Nurse Licensure Compact benefits nurses and the member states. Win—Win.
It is hardly an ideal world, however. The Compact, which allows good nurses to travel where they are needed, can also make it easy for bad nurses to skip town and practice bad medicine again in a different state. That’s a “Win” for the bad nurse, and a big, fat “Lose” for everyone else…including the people of North Carolina. Our state participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact.
An article in USA Today (“Bad Nurses Able to Keep Working in Other States”) discusses the problem in frightening detail. One nurse who was fired from a hospital in Wisconsin and charged with six felony counts of narcotics possession got a job in New Bern, NC. As the nurse, Craig Peske, said:
“When I went to go for the job in North Carolina, I looked at the status of my license, and it was still active,” says Peske, 36, who was later convicted of two felony drug charges. “That kind of surprised me, so I figured I would take it.”
Got that? The nurse knew enough to take advantage of the Compact, but the program isn’t organized enough to keep states updated with the nurses’ performance or status. Advocates say that nurses deserve their day in court before they are black-balled in multiple states. But the reverse is also true–without the Compact, bad nurses would have to apply for licenses in each state, which would provide more chances that criminal charges would be discovered before a nurse harmed more patients.
Is North Carolina an easy landing place for bad nurses from other states?
Unfortunately, nursing homes are often short-staffed, and therefore can be “easy” jobs to get for just about anyone with a license. HensonFuerst frequently reports about nurses who manage to do great harm to nursing home patients, and we represent the families of people who have been seriously injured in care facilities. We believe that the Nurse Licensure Compact system needs to be overhauled. The citizens of North Carolina should be able to feel confident that the nurses hired in our state are qualified, competent, and properly licensed.
The vast majority of nurses, here and across the country, are wonderful, caring professionals. We have to close the information gaps that allow bad nurses to jump on a bus, come to North Carolina, and practice dangerous medicine in our state.