DAYTON -- Complaints of misconduct against nurses are taking more than a year for the Ohio Board of Nursing to investigate -- allowing some of the nurses to continue to care for patients while under investigation -- because complaints have skyrocketed in recent years.
The number of complaints against nurses is climbing, causing the backlog in investigations before the state nursing board's disciplinary system, a Dayton Daily News investigation has found.
"If they get fired, they can just go somewhere else and the other agencies, they don't know their ethics or what they're like," said Judy Patak of Beavercreek, a Dayton suburb.
Ms. Patak complained to the board in January, 2011, that a nurse who was taking care of her severely disabled husband had poked and treated him improperly during a feeding.
No hearing has been set yet in the Patak case.
Nearly a year after 14-year-old Makayla Norman starved to death while receiving Medicaid-funded home care, one of the three nurses criminally charged for not reporting her poor health also hasn't had a hearing yet with the nursing board.
The state's nursing board said the nurse's right to due process must be honored when an allegation is dealt with.
"We are required to do a full investigation, and that requires interviewing witnesses, issuing subpoenas, gathering all the evidence we need for the cases because they are serious, they are serious violations. We want to have all the information that we need for the board to consider," said Betsy Houchen, director of the nursing board.
Although that process has remained the same, the number of complaints has jumped in Ohio.
The board received 6,880 complaints in fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, putting it on pace for an increase of at least 10 percent in the state's two-year accounting period. In the previous two-year period, there were 11,645 complaints. That number was 34 percent higher than from 2007-2008.
These complaints include allegations of substandard practice, drug theft, substance abuse, patient abuse, and other criminal conduct.
Ms. Houchen said the number of complaints is fed by the growth of the industry and an increasing emphasis on reporting concerns. She said the state went to 251,000 licensed nurses in 2010 from 210,000 in 2006.
The Ohio Board of Nursing can immediately suspend a nurse convicted of a felony.
In other instances, the cases are investigated and then presented at one of six meetings the board holds each year.
"Perhaps the most significant challenge for the board has been the steady and dramatic increase in disciplinary complaints in recent years," according to the board's most recent annual report.