Cuomo Floats Reforming Oversight of New York Nurses

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at MTA New York City Transit Headquarters on October 24, 2013. (MTA photo)

By Rosalind Adams, Jessica Huseman and Daniela Porat for ProPublica

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this month that he would consider proposing legislation that would give oversight of New York’s nurses to the state health department after a ProPublica investigation detailed how nurses routinely escape discipline for even serious offenses.

Unlike most states, New York’s more than 400,000 nurses are overseen by the state education department, which also licenses more than 50 different professions under its Office of Professions.  ProPublica’s investigation showed that the office rarely suspended or revoked the licenses of nurses, even when notified of misconduct or criminal behavior by other state agencies. It also routinely failed to take action when notified that nurses with New York licenses had been disciplined by other states.

During an interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Cuomo said the question of whether the education department is “the right agency” to oversee the nurses had “come up in a number of circumstances … Should the state education department have the responsibility of licensing nurses, or is that too far afield for them and should the department of health do it?”

Such a move would require new legislation. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health and sits on the Committee on Higher Education, previously told ProPublica that it might be logical to shift the oversight of the nurses to the health department, but “it would be like moving heaven and earth in terms of a legislative task.”

Gottfried declined to comment for this story.

While Cuomo said he would be involved in any major policy issue changes, the “administration or running of the program” is the responsibility of the Board of Regents and the leadership of the Office of the Professions. He said his office has little authority to improve nurse discipline on its own. “The governor has virtually nothing to do with the state education department,” he said.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to calls for additional comment.

Catherine Collins, a member of the Board of Regents and a former nurse, said Thursday that she would call for a meeting of the Regents’ health care work group to discuss the findings and potential solutions.

While she recommended a “closer relationship between the health department and the education department,” she said she does not believe that nursing regulation should be moved to the health department. Instead, she said the legislature should focus on laws that give the Office of the Professions “more muscle” and funding.

Collins also said she would support changes  to New York’s summary suspension laws, which, unlike other states, do not allow the Office of the Professions to immediately suspend the licenses of nurses who may be an immediate danger to the public.

In the last decade, records showed the Office of the Professions had only handed two summary suspensions, while Michigan filed 134 in the 2013–2014 fiscal year alone.

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