Many legislators are unhappy with the Tennessee Board of Nursing for ignoring a law passed last year, and are suggesting an appropriate remedy to that rebelliousness would be to shorten the amount of time members of the board can serve.
The Tennessee Legislature and state Board of Nursing have been dueling since Rep. Debra Maggart pushed a bill last year that would let a new class of nurses issue medications to nursing home patients. Members of the nursing board refused to implement the new law the way the Legislature intended, saying they were charged with interpreting the law the best it could to protect the public.
Feeling slighted, the Hendersonville Republican fired back with a new bill this year clarifying some legal language to force the board to accept the law the way she intended it — a measure that won easy majorities in both chambers.
The 11-member Board of Nursing is responsible for granting nursing licenses and mandates what curriculum is appropriate for nursing education programs. It also interprets the law to determine standards of nursing practice then investigates and disciplines nurses who violate them.
Lawmakers complained about the board from the House floor last week, including Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who said the board “openly defied state law” and created an “inordinate amount of aggravation” to the House Health and Human Resources Committee this year.
“It seems to be more of an attitude problem than them not following their statutory obligations,” said Rep. Susan Lynn, a Mt. Juliet Republican who is carrying a bill that would shorten the amount of time appointed nurses can sit on the board.
“They were definitely disrespecting the opinion of the legislature,” said Lynn. “They were writing the rules as they saw fit.”
Lynn is sponsoring a bill — which passed on a 81-5 vote last week — to insert at least a four year break after the second term. Currently, members are allowed to serve three four-year terms, but some have been known to serve a different seat on the board which renews their number of terms.
The bill also seeks to ban members from serving in multiple capacities to stretch out the term of service and delay the board’s sunset date until 2016.
Shortening up how long members can serve on the board will loosen the board’s power grip and sense of entitlement, Lynn said.
The board has been doing its job reviewing licenses and hearing alleged violations, she said, but “attitude” is the problem. “It’s hard to legislate that,” said Lynn. “The best remedy I can think of is let’s move some of these people out and lets get new people in.”
To some lawmakers, that’s not enough: They’d rather see the board dissolved altogether. “It’s like a bunch of witches on a witch hunt,” Rep. Dale Ford, a Republican from Jonesborough, said last week. “As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need to extend this. We need to cut it.”
The Board of Nursing’s chairwoman said the body never meant to ruffle any feathers.
“I’m so hurt by the misunderstanding. I’m genuinely hurt,” said Cheryl Stegbauer, Board of Nursing president. The criticisms of the board on the House floor last week were quite stinging, she said, particularly “witches” comment.
“I think the misunderstanding has be perpetuated, the belief that we are arrogant and don’t care,” said Stegbauer.
She said the board interpreted the bill on nursing home medication givers after watching video of from of Sen. Diane Black pitching her bill on the Senate floor last year and made its best judgment off her testimony.
But Stegbauer said she’s in favor of the eight-year term limit for board membership but says she can’t conceive how the state could get by licensing 107,000 nurses, overseeing 63 education programs and conducting disciplinary hearings without a board in place.