LOS ANGELES -- In March 2006, a Long Beach hospital put state licensing authorities on notice: Two patients had accused a nurse of molesting them on a single night. One said that he massaged her breasts, the other that he groped her under her hospital gown, according to hospital and court records.
By year's end, licensed
vocational nurse Carlito Paar Manabat Jr. had pleaded no contest to two counts
of sexual battery. He went on to serve six months in jail and register as a sex
It wasn't until
July, more than two years after first being alerted to the problem, that the
California Bureau of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians took the
first formal steps to revoke or restrict Manabat's license.
the case pending, Manabat is still free to practice -- though he says he
doesn't, on the advice of his probation officer.
A review of the
vocational nursing bureau by The Times and ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative
newsroom, found many cases similar to Manabat's in which regulators acted
belatedly or not at all, even when explicitly told that nurses had committed
serious crimes. Some were handed renewals after reporting their own felonies to
"Obviously the public isn't protected," said John M. Brion,
an assistant clinical professor at the Duke University School of Nursing and
former executive director of the Ohio Board of Nursing. "If you have a person
who's already been convicted and served their time and they haven't even been
charged by the board . . . I would really question what's wrong with their
In an interview, Manabat denied molesting his patients, saying
they must have been hallucinating. He didn't fight the charges, he said, fearing
a lengthy prison sentence.
The findings expand upon a Times report last
month that examined the bureau's sister agency, the Board of Registered Nursing,
and cited dozens of examples in which RNs retained their licenses for years
despite serious or repeated criminal convictions.
Problems with the two
agencies, both overseen by the state Department of Consumer Affairs, may signal
a broader breakdown in the regulation of health professions. The department
presides over more than 30 professional boards and bureaus, with varying and
sometimes inconsistent approaches to screening for criminal
"The fear is that there's any vulnerability in the consumer
protection we're offering," said Carrie Lopez, the department's
In general, Lopez said, she does not believe it is acceptable
to take two years for regulators to file a formal complaint against a convicted
sex offender. "We want to see action taken as soon as possible," she
The best way to do that, Lopez said, is to require all applicants
for professional licenses to provide their fingerprints, allowing law
enforcement to notify regulators of any arrests. The vocational nursing bureau
has usable fingerprints from fewer than half of its 79,000 licensees because
fingerprinting has been an on-again-off-again requirement since 1952.
Times previously reported that more than 40% of the state's 344,000 registered
nurses had no fingerprints on record because they were not required before 1990.
After the story ran, the Board of Registered Nursing voted to require
fingerprinting for all its licensees.
Registered and vocational nurses
account for the bulk of bedside care in hospitals, nursing homes and other
health facilities. Registered nurses have more training and assume primary
responsibility for fulfilling doctors' orders and monitoring patients'
conditions. Vocational nurses perform more basic tasks such as administering
medications and taking vital signs.
In examining the vocational nursing
bureau, reporters reviewed 162 disciplinary decisions made in 2007 against
licensed vocational nurses. The documents were obtained through a Public Records
Act request because the bureau historically has not made them available to the
public on its website.
Twenty-seven nurses racked up three or more
criminal convictions before regulators filed complaints against them. Three had
accumulated nine or more. In some cases the bureau took so long to act that
judges said revoking the nurse's license was no longer necessary to protect the
That was the case for Donna Redcross of Mountain View. From 1990
to 2001, she was convicted three times for petty theft, three times for driving
without a license and once each for possession of methamphetamine, disturbing
the peace and drunk driving, bureau records show.
But the bureau made no
move to restrict her license until February 2007. An administrative law judge,
citing that delay, put her on three years of administrative probation. Through
her lawyer, Redcross declined to comment.
LA Times Probe Finds Nurses' Criminal Records Ignored
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