Dangerous caregivers missing from federal database due to poor state-level reporting

State boards and agencies around the country failed to alert the federal government of health professionals they disciplined, leaving huge gaps in the federal database that hospitals use to weed out dangerous doctors, nurses and other health practitioners during background checks, ProPublica reports.

The failure to report frontline health workers with records of on-the-job misconduct, incompetence or criminal acts makes it all too easy for hospitals to accidentally hire someone who poses a danger to patients the day they show up for work.

States are required by law to report licensed healthcare workers they've sanctioned to databases run by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). ProPublica found that many state agencies don't know about the requirement or simply were not complying.

After a ProPublica investigation in February found wide gaps in the data, including hundreds of nurses and pharmacists who had been sanctioned for serious wrongdoing, state regulators, with the prodding of federal health officials, submitted 72,000 new records to the HRSA database, almost double to total submitted in all of 2009.

HRSA has since contacted 13 nursing boards, which have reported more than 2,000 missing cases. Florida alone had 972.

Federal officials' power to enforce reporting to the database is limited. In July HRSA took what it said was its strongest action yet against scofflaws by placing a checkmark next to the names of states that are "noncompliant" on the HRSA website.

HRSA is looking into the compliance status of some 450 licensing boards and agencies that appear to have never reported disciplinary actions for some of the professions they oversee. HRSA also is following in ProPublica's footsteps by comparing disciplinary actions reporting to the federal database to what states have listed on their own public websites. "This is a work in progress," Mary Wakefield, HRSA administrator, told ProPublica.

To learn more:
- read the ProPublica article

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