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Introducing Our State-by-State Guide to Dangerous Nurses

Some states have failed to adequately report disciplinary actions against health professionals to a federal database. To help, ProPublica is providing a look at which states offer online information about nurses' licenses and discipline.

States highlighted in green  provide both free online license verification and free disciplinary documents online.
Our ongoing investigation of gaps in the federal government’s database of sanctioned caregivers has turned up additional problems. In a story published this morning in the Chicago Tribune, we detail how the state of Illinois hasn’t reported a single emergency medical technician whose license was revoked or suspended.

Other states, including California, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, also have failed to completely report to the feds on disciplinary actions against nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, therapists or other health professionals.

With this in mind, we’ve created our own easy-to-use guide to verifying nurses’ licenses in every state. You can see which states let you look up nursing licenses for free online and which provide Web access to disciplinary documents.

We hope the guide helps not only the public, but health employers and journalists who want to check on how well their states regulate nurses.

Last year, when we looked at California’s Board of Registered Nursing, we found a system plagued by delays that allowed nurses to move from hospital to hospital, amassing complaints, before they were disciplined.

Our story in today’s Tribune, along with one last week in the Los Angeles Times, follows up by focusing on the federal government’s effort to expand its National Practitioners Data Bank beyond just physicians and dentists.

The database is meant to be a clearinghouse that employers can use to make sure dangerous health workers aren’t hopscotching undetected from state to state. But we found that many states haven’t been reporting disciplinary actions to the feds. Our review suggests that thousands of cases might be missing.

They include a Chicago EMT who lost her license in 2000 after she repeatedly failed to provide proper emergency care to patients. Her license was revoked again last year – after regulators discovered she'd lied to get a new one.

A spokeswoman for Illinois’ Department of Public Health, which oversees EMTs, told us officials hadn’t been aware of the federal database or the need to report sanctions to it.

After we began asking questions, federal officials said they would increase their oversight and conduct an audit to determine what is wrong and how to fix it. And they sent a letter to governors asking for help filling gaps.

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