Harwell mum on lawmakers under TBI investigation

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 4:22pm

State House Speaker Beth Harwell on Wednesday declined to criticize two lawmakers who exerted political pressure against a state regulatory board on behalf of nurse practitioners accused of over-prescribing painkillers.

Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, have boasted about how they compelled the state Board of Nursing to reconsider disciplinary action against the three nurses. Their licenses were suspended last year, but that action was rescinded in May.

To force the board to knuckle under, Shipley said he led an effort to block its reauthorization in state law, a move that could have shut down the agency. For his part, Ford said he introduced legislation to create a three-member legislative committee to oversee the board’s major disciplinary actions.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said this week its agents are looking into whether any criminal wrongdoing occurred.

Shipley said one of the nurses went to church with him. Ford said his sister worked as a lab technician at the Johnson City clinic with the nurses. Both lawmakers insist the board originally failed to hear exculpatory evidence and that they were merely trying to force regulators to hold fair proceedings.

Appearing briefly outside her office at Legislative Plaza, Harwell deflected questions from reporters about the investigation.

“That’s an ongoing investigation, and whatever they conclude, we’ll comply with that,” she said.

“I don’t know the particulars of it,” she added. “I’ve made a point not to know the particulars of it. If they’ve done something that is wrong or inappropriate or unethical, they should receive punishment for it. But I don’t know that they have.”

Asked whether it was proper for lawmakers to threaten agencies by holding up their reauthorizations, the speaker said, “We certainly don’t want in any way to appear abusive. I don’t think that was anyone’s intent. If it was, they were wrong.”

When their licenses were suspended last year, the nurses were accused of "engaging in a pattern of deceptive, substandard care and gross malpractice" that led to the deaths of two patients. 

7 Comments on this post:

By: Captain Nemo on 7/21/11 at 6:25

What are the medical backgrounds of Shipley and Ford?

By: sickofstupidity on 7/21/11 at 7:01

Come on Harwell. I have worked for the State for 25 years and I cannot count the number of times I have seen legislators intimidate/influence members of boards and agencies, call and threaten supervisors with their jobs if they did hire friends of theirs, and generally blackmail whomever they can to get what They want. These two pillow biting ass clowns are just the tip of the iceburg.

By: therapacize47 on 7/21/11 at 7:19

Surely it's a good thing for Tennessee that these Nurse Practitioners can continue to prescribe or over-prescribe. That provides a ready-made customer base for the treatment centers that are being supported by Tenn Care Less dollars. Yup. Doing great things for the economy also, keeping those tax dollars flowing.

On the serious side, needless or over prescribing is causing a lot of problems out there. The effects of addiction destroy people and families. It kills!!! How many doctors need to face similar disciplinary proceeding without pet legislators pulling them to safety?

Cut no slack. Professional responsibility is more important than I have words to say.

By: skeptic1 on 7/21/11 at 8:15

sickofstupidity is absolutely correct about the way legislators intimidate some agencies. Not all legislators and not every agency, but it does happen. I have seen it and counted myself lucky not to be at that level of authority to be their target.

It works the same way in other states too. Several years ago I worked for a different state where I was once told to put a current project on hold so I could work on a different project because it was a PRIORITY. The only priority was that a legislator had called management to ask for a "favor" for his constituent. My supervisor used the old cliche about the squeaky wheel. Luckily neither case was critical, but I prefer the "first come, first served" method to be fair to everyone. In my opinion, trading "favors" smacks of Favoritism, Cronyism, and Nepotism.

By: pswindle on 7/21/11 at 10:20

Beth, if it were two democrats would you go after them?

By: cityjvtao on 7/21/11 at 12:30

The reason people don’t like Toney Shipley is because of his self centered, self-righteous demeanor, not because he is a conservative republican. Shipley often likes to call upon the state constitution as the bases for his actions, but he ignores the required separation of powers when it suits his agenda.

As the earlier writer ( sickofstupidity) correctly claimed, it is common practice in Tennessee for a legislator to introduce punitive legislation when a state agency refuses a request. Shipley even seems proud he was able to strong arm the Health Department. Now thanks to Shipley’s unethical actions, these nurses are free to practice again, even if it might harm the general public.

By: Donna Locke on 7/21/11 at 3:27

If the nurse practitioners are guilty of doing something dangerous, what about the nursing board in reinstating them?

Lots of houses need cleaning. Let's import the labor to do it, ha!

I like Tony, but sadly, sickofstupidity above is right about similar actions.