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California Health Boards Draft Rules to Fix Worker Loopholes

California’s health licensing boards are working to pass new regulations to prevent incompetent or dangerous workers from practicing.

California’s health licensing boards—which oversee doctors, nurses and other health care professionals—are each working to pass new regulations to prevent incompetent or dangerous workers from continuing to practice in the state.

As we reported in 2008, the boards had allowed health workers with drug problems, felonies and histories of negligence to continue practicing in the state and took years to act on known problems.

California Watch flagged a few of the proposed regulations:

In addition to automatically revoking licenses from nurses who are convicted of a sex offense, the proposed regulations would prohibit chiropractors from entering into "gag clauses" in court – orders banning them from discussing their cases, even with regulatory officials. And the board that licenses doctors would gain additional authority over doctors who abuse drugs or alcohol, or shirk requirements to work under another physician's watchful eye.

An earlier effort to repair the state’s disciplinary process had failed last year with strong opposition from worker associations and labor unions, as we reported. 

That bill would have addressed the gaps in oversight in “one fell swoop,” Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, told me. In lieu of that sweeping legislation, the state’s health licensing boards are now working separately to implement some of those measures through rulemaking. Heimerich says that the measures are “by and large—with one exception—pretty much being supported by industries we regulate.”

The one proposed regulation that has received opposition is a proposal requiring nurses to disclose when they’ve been arrested. Some have argued that an arrest for protesting, for example, should not prompt an investigation by the nursing board.

Consumer affairs regulators aren’t buying it. “To be honest, we’re rather cold to that argument,” Heimerich said. “An investigation will reveal if it’s something as simple as a protest.”

Carrying out such investigations, however, will add to the work of a nursing board that is already struggling under a growing backlog of investigations. At a meeting last fall, the Board of Registered Nursing reported that its enforcement staff was “becoming burned out” just trying to keep up given current staffing levels and a tight budget.

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