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Error affects hundreds of nurses

By Christine Jordan Sexton
3/18/2009 © Florida Health News

Two lawmakers have asked Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate a miscue by the Florida Board of Nursing, which met last month in violation of the Sunshine Law. Now the board will have to hold a do-over in April so that its actions will be official.

The legally required notice didn’t come out until Feb. 6, the last day of the three-day meeting in Tallahassee, according to State Rep. Denise Grimsley, a nurse, and Sen. Durell Peaden, a retired doctor.

“Frankly the Board of Nursing’s actions are an embarrassment to the state,” Grimsley wrote in her letter, ironically sent Monday, the same day the governor was holding media events to praise Florida’s broad open-government laws.

It wasn’t the Board of Nursing’s fault, said Department of Health spokesman Doc Kokol. DOH’s Medical Quality Assurance staff provides administrative support to professional boards and has responsibility for issuing the notice, arranging for board meetings, putting together agendas and materials for board members and staffing the meetings themselves.

The state's mistake for the meetings alone cost an estimated $42,000: The ill-fated Tallahassee meeting would have been around $30,000, based on the average cost of a nursing board meeting, Kokol said. Add $12,000 for extending the April meeting at the Hilton on Dania Beach to repeat the cases from February. DOH says it can handle them in two days by scheduling them efficiently.

That $42,000 estimate doesn’t count the cost to the state of notifying everyone who appeared before the nursing board in February that they have to do it again. And it doesn’t count the cost to hundreds of nurses and their attorneys.

It was “human error, “ Kokol said, apparently the result of a staff member at Medical Quality Assurance trying to send two meeting notices at the same time to increase efficiency. DOH will change its procedures to make sure a supervisor reviews notices before they go out, he said.

“We are going to make sure we resolve the legal issues,” Kokol said.

Copies of the letters from Grimsley and Peaden went to Attorney General Bill McCollum and DOH Secretary Ana Viamonte Ros.

The Sunshine Law requires that a public notice be issued at least seven days in advance of a meeting of a governmental board so that people can plan to attend. The announcement for the Board of Nursing meeting that started Feb. 4 at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center would have needed to appear no later than Jan. 28.

The 13-member board, appointed by the governor and approved by the Florida Senate, makes rules for licensees -- from the certified nursing assistant to the advanced registered nurse practitioner – and sits in judgment in disciplinary cases. The DOH web site shows that the February meeting covered cases of hundreds of licensed nurses and certified nursing assistants.

Kokol said the Board of Nursing is notifying every applicant and licensee whose name appeared on the February agenda because nothing the board did at the meeting is binding. Kokol said the state was looking into the possibility of setting up a teleconference number for people to dial in so they wouldn’t have to make a trip to South Florida.

Florida Nurses Association lobbyist Anna Small said a trip to the Fort Lauderdale area in the spring, when hotel rates are high, may not be an affordable option for some of the licensees.

“In this economy, that’s a problem,” she said. 

--Contact Christine Jordane Sexton.