Currently, register nurses and licensed practitioner nurses in the state of Minnesota do not have to pass a criminal background check in order to receive or renew their licenses. Instead, the state relies on nurses to self-report any instances of criminal convictions or misconduct. When hiring nurses, most employers run their own pre-employment background checks, but until background checks are required the Board of Nursing feels that patients are not guaranteed the safest possible care.
Minnesota is one of only 10 states where there are no regulations preventing the Board of Nursing from issuing licenses to felons. An investigation by the Star Tribune in that state found 88 nurses with records for crimes including physical and sexual assault who are still licensed and practicing.
Requiring nurses to pass criminal background checks when applying for or renewing a license could limit individuals with criminal records from obtaining a license renewal. New legislation introduced during the last session would require health-licensing boards, including the Board of Nursing, to conduct a fingerprint-based criminal background check on each applicant before issuing a license.
Fingerprint-based criminal background checks are often favored by government organizations, but in most cases they are expensive and can be subject to delays. Commercially available criminal database searches such as our US AliasSEARCH check, use the names associated with the subject's social security number to search for public criminal records matching the primary and alias names instantly, offering a very cost-effective method to uncovering crimes.
Regardless of how the background checks are done, it will be difficult for them to be effective in protecting the public from nurses with criminal backgrounds given the requirements imposed on the Board of Nursing by this state. Under Minnesota’s Criminal Rehabilitation Act, most health licensing boards are required to allow individuals with convictions to keep their licenses, as long as they can show evidence of rehabilitation. In practice, this means that nurses with criminal convictions or complaints against them are often disciplined by having the state monitor them for sobriety, limiting where they may practice, or requiring continuing education, rather than by license suspension.
Even a license suspension is not a career-ending event, because nurses can easily get reinstated. One nurse had her license suspended 5 times between 1994 and 2011 for drug use and nursing practice problems. She will be eligible for her fifth reinstatement next year. Or take the case of Cari Cady for example. Cady pled guilty in 2008 to stealing pain medications from a patient at a care facility where she worked. The Board of Nursing required her to complete a drug treatment program in order to keep her license. Cady complied but soon committed a new crime: in 2012 she stole around 375 prescription pain pills from nursing home patients, replacing them with aspirin and knowingly endangering patients’ lives in the process. Her license was subsequently suspended. Cady was recently interviewed as part of an investigation into the Board of Nursing’s policies. When asked if she thought the Board was successful in protecting patients from dangerous nurses, Cady replied, “Oh, Gosh no.”