RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Billy Overman and his wife thought they struck gold when they hired a licensed practical nurse to care for Billy’s aging mother.
“My momma was like a newborn baby, she could not do anything for herself,” Overman said.
But over time, he started to notice signs his mother was being abused by her nurse. Overman installed a camera to monitor the nurse and his mom.
The camera captured images of the nurse abusing Overman’s mother.
“We saw her grabbing momma’s head and shaking her head and twisting her arm all up over her head like a wrestler,” he said.
Overman and his lawyer used the video against nurse Valerie Draughn in court. Draughn was convicted, sent to jail and had her nursing license suspended.
The Board of Nursing is part of Virginia’s Department of Health Professions. The number of nurses disciplined is a fraction of the total number of licensed nurses.
Still, over the past few years, there are hundreds of instances where the Board of Nursing had to step in and take action.
It is the board’s job to ensure safe and competent patient care. It accomplishes this through licensure, regulation and discipline.
But how effective is the board?
Local medical malpractice attorney Jonathan Petty is very familiar with the board and how it works.
“It seems to me the board of nursing does a good job regulating nurses, but probably is more tuned in to cases of impaired nurses as opposed to quality of care issues,” Petty said.
To that point, CBS6 asked Petty to take a look at two disciplinary orders issued by the board in 2013.
The first involved a Richmond nurse responsible for the care of a 12-year-old girl with a breathing issue who left the child alone in a car while she went into an adult novelty store.
The second case involves a nurse who owns a Richmond home health business and assigned another nurse without ventilator experience or training to care for a nine-year-old on a ventilator with a tracheostomy tube.
The patient’s trach tube eventually became dislodged and he stopped breathing.
In both cases, complaints were filed, and the Board of Nursing issued reprimands.
“A reprimand is just telling somebody they did something wrong and not to do it again. It doesn’t restrict the ability of the nurse to practice,” Petty said.
The orders do not say if the patients were harmed in either incident, and a spokeswoman for the DHP said state law dictates that some information is privileged.
The DHP turned down our request for an interview.
The Board’s Executive Director, Jay Douglas, did speak with Melissa Hipolit twice by phone on background, but she declined her interview request saying there is no further information the board can provide.
When Melissa asked Delegate Rosalyn Dance, the former Mayor of Petersburg and a retired nurse if she felt the punishment was appropriate, she said the trach case gave her pause.
“That’s a problem for me…that’s all I can say is that’s a problem for me…cause that is one of the things you are required to do…you’re going to give them a position to do they need to be trained in that,” Dance said.
But, Dance is confident the board made the right decision based on all the details it had at the time, which may include factors that are not available to the public.
“What seems black and white is not always black and white unless you know what the situation was,” Dance said.
Quality of care issues are not the only reason nurses are disciplined.
While pouring over hundreds of complaints filed against Virginia nurses, CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit also uncovered examples of nurses with addiction problems — caught swiping pills and other medication that should have gone to their patients.
You might think nurses caught diverting drugs for their own personal use or making mistakes on the job, might lose their nursing license.
But that is not always the case.
In fact, some nurses continue to care for patients while working to beat their addiction.
One particular case stood out.
According to board documents, between 2005 and 2007, an LPN stole narcotic pain meds at five different health care facilities, and, in some instances, took the drugs while working.
“That is totally beyond the norm, I can’t imagine they would have more than one case that would be that bad,” Dance said.
When the board looked at the case eight months later, it took no action because of something called the Health Practitioners Monitoring Program (HPMP).
“It gives nurses a chance to work through their issues and continue to treat patients,” Petty said.
There are currently 360 nurses licensed by the board who are enrolled in the HPMP, according to Douglas.
They can voluntarily enroll or be ordered to do so by the board.
While in the program, nurses have to sign a contract and follow the rules of the contract to be allowed to continue nursing.
State Delegate John O’Bannon, who is also a practicing Neurologist, told CBS6 the program is a good idea.
“To the extent that we have spent that much time and energy and money getting these folks trained to be professionals, I think it’s worth making the effort to try to help them if they have a problem,” O’Bannon said.
But, according to the most recent program performance report available for HPMP, just 38 percent of nurses who entered the program in 2012 successfully completed it, compared to 78 percent of doctors.
Rosalyn Dance said nurses have more exposure to the drugs than doctors.
“We are the ones that administer the medications to the patients. We always say the doctor has the patient for about five minutes or so, we are the ones who are going to be with them for 24 hours,” Dance said.
Which brings us back to the LPN mentioned earlier, who, according to board documents, enrolled in the program in 2007.
The board took no action on his drug activities in 2008, even after he submitted two urine samples that tested positive for marijuana.
He was not dismissed from the program until January of 2009 for noncompliance with his Recovery Monitoring Contract, including failure to submit urine toxicology screens and failing to maintain contact with the HPMP.
His license was not suspended until February of 2010, although it had expired in April in 2009.
“I’m sorry if you’re diverted drugs to yourself five times, you’re likely to do it a sixth time…at some point the board needs to step in say this individual needs to be doing something else rather than taking care of patients,” Petty said.
A spokeswoman for the Board of Nursing, Diane Powers, said there are no limitations on the number of times licensees can participate in the HPMP.
CBS6 found examples of some nurses violating the terms of the program, but being allowed to re-enter again and again.
Still, when it comes to protecting patients, the board can only get involved after they have received a complaint.
That’s why Billy Overman encourages others to be as vigilant as his family.
“They said in court she never had any complaints against her, but my feeling is she had just never been caught,” said Overman.
Have you had a good or bad experience with a Virginia nurse? Tell us about it. Click here to email Melissa and the WTVR CBS 6 Newsroom.