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State's rehab program for nurses is called 'untenable' and 'dangerous'

The treatment program for healthcare professionals addicted to drugs and alcohol is overburdened, with case managers overseeing about twice as many patients as they should, expert tells Senate panel.

March 15, 2011|By Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times

A UC San Francisco expert in treatment of drug-addicted healthcare professionals resigned as a volunteer consultant to California's "diversion" program for nurses, telling a state Senate panel Monday that the program is in an "untenable and, in some cases, dangerous situation."

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, a psychiatrist and medical director for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, complained that the contractor that helps run the diversion programs has caseloads that are "far too high … to effectively monitor clients." Managers have 100 cases or more, she said, when ideally they should have between 50 and 75.

The contractor, Virginia-based Maximus health services, "appears to have no medical director," she said.

In a related development, Brian Stiger, director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Board of Nursing and other healthcare boards, said he wants an outside auditor to evaluate all the healthcare diversion programs.

The latest complaints about Maximus, which is paid about $2.5 million to help run the programs, come less than eight months after officials revealed that more than 140 nurses, pharmacists and others were erroneously given negative results on drug and alcohol screenings because of a subcontractor's oversight.

Maximus officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Two years ago, a Times investigation into the program for nurses found participants who worked while intoxicated, stole drugs from the bedridden and falsified records to cover their tracks. Last year, an audit by the Department of Consumer Affairs found that Maximus did not always report positive drug tests to the appropriate board in a timely manner.

In a follow-up report this month, the department found that Maximus had fully corrected most of the problems.

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