The nursing board has struggled to address a host of problems identified in last year's news report.
The priority has been to reduce the time it takes to discipline errant caregivers — from the more than three years reported in the Times/ProPublica investigation to less than 18 months. Until recently, nurses had been able to keep working — and getting in trouble — as complaints languished.
After the stories in The Times, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced the majority of the nursing board's members and ordered broad changes in oversight of all health professionals. His budget request for more than 30 staffers to cut the board's discipline backlog is pending in the Legislature.
Board staff had said they needed nearly double that.
"It's going to be a lot on our staff," said board President Boynton, referring to 2,000 new cases.
Officials say the cases are going to be handled separately from the hundreds already being investigated or adjudicated. The attorney general's office is creating teams of attorneys in Northern and Southern California to handle the additional caseload.
These new cases should be easier to process because the alleged misconduct has been investigated and adjudicated elsewhere. But the state still needs to collect records from across the country and ensure that the investigations meet California standards, officials said. The costs can be absorbed within the nursing board's existing budget, which is funded by licensing fees, officials said.
The attorneys will focus first on the 1,743 nurses whose licenses are active in California. The licenses of more than 430 in this group have been revoked, suspended or surrendered in other states.
The state plans to flag the licenses of the remaining 1,720 nurses whose status is inactive, in case they attempt to renew them.
Other states routinely do more to learn if their nurses are getting in trouble elsewhere. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia provide the names of all of their nurses — whether they've been disciplined or not — to the national council's database so that if any nursing board takes action against a nurse, the other participating states can be quickly alerted.
But because California and 12 other states don't participate, it's difficult for regulators elsewhere to know if they should alert those states. Nonparticipating states license more than 40% of the nation's 3.5 million registered nurses.
California also has a financial incentive not to submit its names. The state makes money by charging nurses a fee to verify their licenses, test scores and training when authorities in other states call for information.
For example, a nurse licensed in California who wants credentials to practice in Arizona must pay California $60 to confirm her background. Those sorts of checks netted California nearly $1 million in fiscal 2009.
Weber and Ornstein are senior reporters at ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in New York. Their previous stories on nursing oversight are available at latimes.com/nurses and propublica.org/nurses.