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TBI ‘Pretty Close’ To Wrapping Up Probe Into Shipley, Ford

Rep. Tony Shipley, a subcommittee chairman, recently grilled members of the state nursing board about how they handle nurse suspensions — like those over which the two legislators are being investigated for using improper influence to reverse.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is almost finished with its investigation  into two state representatives accused of misconduct in a case involving three disciplined nurses, according to a spokeswoman for the law enforcement agency.

Once the investigation is completed, it will be turned over to District Attorney Torry Johnson, who earlier this year requested the TBI look into the dealings of Reps. Tony Shipley and Dale Ford and the Department of Health.

“We’re pretty close to finishing up and giving the entire case file to him to review,” TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm told TNReport this week. She said the investigation is open.

Johnson asked the TBI to investigate whether the two East Tennessee lawmakers used political influence to improperly pressure the board into reinstating the licenses of three nurse practitioners.

The nurse practitioners had been accused of over-prescribing medications contributing to the death of patients at the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Center in Johnson City. The investigation into the three nurses is still open, and District Attorney Tony Clark is still reviewing the case, according to the TBI. The nurses have not been charged.

Shipley and Ford, both Republicans, had each acknowledged filing legislation to alter the board makeup or its oversight or move to shut the board down. Ford told the Associated Press that his wife was a clinic patient and his sister worked at the center.

“I perceive this whole effort to be a means to intimidate a legislator, to prevent him from doing his constitutional duty. And guess what, it’s not going to work,” Shipley told TNReport Tuesday at the Capitol.

“Everything that I have proposed, I’m going to continue to do, and those who are shooting at me will have to answer for that at some point,” he said.

Shipley chairs a committee that has significant influence over the state Board of Nursing. That Government Operations subcommittee on education, health and general welfare met Wednesday.

The panel voted to keep the board active for another two years but change rules pertaining to who can serve on the board and how it operates.

Shipley led the charge as he and other lawmakers quizzed board representatives on how it deals with complaints against nurses suspected of wrongdoing, but not charged, much less convicted by a court — like the three nurses whose cases triggered TBI’s investigation.

Lawmakers also asked how far the board goes to make sure it implements laws with the Legislature’s intent at heart, an issue that landed the board in hot water with lawmakers last session.

“I want you to understand that we’re not here to beat you up. That’s not what we’re trying to do at all. We’re trying to understand the process because when we come out of this, we want it to be better,” Shipley said to nurses at the subcommittee meeting.

The Tennessee Nurses Association, which represents 83,000 registered nurses, agreed with the proposed changes to be written into legislation extending the life of the board. The plan came in part from a recent sit-down with Shipley.

“We are very comfortable with this amendment,” Executive Director Sharon Adkins said, who added she is also happy with the work of the Board of Nursing. “We are very pleased with our discussion with Rep. Shipley and the resulting amendment that came forward.”

Expected provisions include:

  • One board member to come from each of the nine congressional districts.
  • At least one member to be a licensed practical nurse.
  • At least one member to be a consumer.
  • At least one member must be at least 60 years old.
  • At least one member must belong to an ethnic minority.
  • No more than three members may come from from academic settings.
  •  In appointing members, the governor shall consider people from various medical backgrounds.
  • Seven members must be physically present for any decision to suspend a nurse.
  • No member may serve more than eight consecutive years.
  • Members will be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by respective organizations such as the Tennessee Nurses Association.

The legislation, and decision to renew the Board of Nurses, now moves to the full Government Operations committees in the House and Senate, which are expected to take up the issue in the spring 2012 legislative session.

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