Nurse’s arrest shows flaws in Tennessee background check reports

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FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. — When a nurse is facing criminal charges for stealing prescription drugs and fired from the job, you'd think a warning or red flag would go on her license to warn others until the investigation is complete.

A car found wedged in the mud on the side of the I-40 in Fayette County ended up being the center of a criminal investigation.

State troopers say inside the car was meth, marijuana and 600 prescription pills, and the driver, Latisha Hayden, was a registered nurse in the Mid-South.

Investigators say Hayden admitted she stole the pills from her patients and was arrested on drug and theft charges.

That was in December 2018.

Weeks later, Hayden bonded out and the staffing company she worked for fired her.

Now, it's unclear where she's living or if she's landed another nursing job.

That's because her license remains the same as it was before her arrest. There's no blurb, no mark, nothing on the state's licensure verification database.

It reads, "no history of disciplinary action."

Same story when we looked at the national database called Nursys.

We asked the Tennessee Department of Health why that is, since the Board of Nursing falls under their wing.

They didn't agree to an interview and have been very vague in the emails they've sent us.

Here's what we've gathered: A spokesperson stated, "There is no state law or rule that permits automatic action against a health professional's license if he or she is charged with a crime. Everyone is entitled to due process."

That means while Hayden awaits her trial, the only mention we could find of her arrest was in a criminal background check.

"There's no fool-proof to this," said Tasha Holmes. She has gone through trial and error finding the best caretaker for her mother. "You see lots of ads in the newspaper, like care for mom. Home for mom."

She ended up choosing a self-employed CNA, which meant she had to screen the person on her own.

She held interviews, ran a criminal background check and did google searches, but admits that still might not have been enough.

"If I hire her today, she could do something illegal the next day. He could do something illegal the next day," said Holmes.

There are thousands of nurses licensed in Tennessee, and very few were found guilty of a crime.

Since January 2018, we counted 35 listed in the nursing board's disciplinary reports.

But when we took a closer look at some of the cases, we discovered it took months or even years after the initial arrest for their license to be suspended or revoked.

Take this case for example: Roxanna Earnest was a nurse at the Memphis Cardiovascular Clinic, and for seven years, she used a pre-signed pad to fill 972 prescriptions for herself and others. She illegally obtained more than 57,000 pills including Ambien, Xanex, Vicodin and Percocet.

She was arrested June 1, 2017. Weeks later, the clinic fired her.

In November 2018, she pleaded guilty in federal court, but it took another four months after that for the nursing board to revoke her license.

The state says when a nurse is under investigation, the file is flagged on a nurse licensure database, but the state wouldn't say if that's an internal flag or how the public can see it.

"The thing is though, remember until she`s found guilty, it's an accusation," said Tennessee Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis).

Parkinson said due process is vital. He said he's open to seeing how the board's process can move faster.

"It's important that people get the opportunity to at least make their case for themselves," he said.

As for Holmes, she said hiring a caregiver was one of the hardest things she's ever done.

"The business is booming. They know people are living longer. But I'm not sure the due diligence is given to the higher if I'm being honest," she said.

She suggests turning to non-profits like AARP that provide checklists and reduces to help with the process.

"We have to do a good job of sharing this with this generation of folks," she said.

Click here to find resources AARP offers for hiring a caregiver

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