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 Their licenses were suspended last year, but that action was rescinded in May.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.