Senate testimony alleges ‘crisis’ at state nursing board

According to any number of the people testifying before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, the state’s Board of Nursing is in crisis. Facing chronic underfunding and understaffing, several of the board’s leaders blew the whistle on the problems over the summer. On Thursday, they told lawmakers that going public cost them their positions.

“The governor’s office gave me no reason for my removal,” said Former President of New Jersey Board of Nursing Patricia Murphy. “So I’m left with no alternative explanation except that they intended retribution toward me as a warning to other public servants. If you draw attention to the administration’s alleged shortcomings, it’s grounds for banishment.”

Murphy was removed from her spot just six days ago. She says the agency is unable to carry out its mission as a watchdog: protecting patients by overseeing all of New Jersey’s nurses, issuing licenses and investigating complaints because the state isn’t allocating enough resources, money or staff.

“The division has not filled any of the positions that are vacated by professionals with professionals,” said Murphy.

Lawmakers are trying to get to the bottom of the shortages that lead to a massive backlog. The former executive director says as of mid-August, more than 4,000 people are waiting for licensure or certification. Disciplinary action and court hearings are left in limbo. She cited that as one reason for resigning from her position just 13 months after being appointed.

“You hire me as a basketball coach and the expectation is you want me to win a championship with my team, but it’s impossible to win when I only have two players when I need five. And it became increasingly difficult to explain that I can change the processes all I want, but at the end of the day, it boiled down to numbers. And I just couldn’t convince them to give me the resources I needed,” said Former New Jersey Board of Nursing Executive Director Dorothy Smith Carolina.

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie did appoint 10 new members to the board and made three re-appointments, filling the vacancies that made it nearly impossible for the board to have a quorum and hold meetings. While it fills the board, lawmakers are concerned it’s a temporary fix for a systemic problem.

“It sounds like this organization needs a total overhaul and it may be best for some outsider to give an objective assessment,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.

“We are attempting to do the kind of analysis you are suggesting and come up with proactive things we can launch as quickly as possible to address the issues,” said Sharon Joyce, acting director of New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

Lawmakers suggested the organization may need independent auditing and legislation that prevents positions from being left vacant. But it’s likely the issues plaguing the Board of Nursing will become the problem of the next governor.