- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A law that took effect this year requiring federal criminal background checks for Maryland nurses has created delays in licensing health care workers, even as the state suffers a nursing shortage.

The Maryland Board of Nursing, which licenses nurses and nursing assistants, said applicants have been experiencing delays getting fingerprints processed because of the law, which took effect in January. But a solution may not come until next year.

“Until the law gets changed, there really isn”t that [they] can do or we can do,” said Patricia Ann Noble, executive director of the nursing board.

Mrs. Noble said she does not know how many nurses are unable to practice because of the delays but hopes to have an estimate by next week.

Maryland joined 30 other states in requiring the background checks, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The District will require checks beginning at the end of the year, and Virginia does not require background checks for nurses, according to the council.

A spokeswoman for the council said she was unaware of any other states that had problems implementing the background checks.

Mrs. Noble said Maryland”s Nursing Board is pushing for legislation for the 2008 session that would allow nurses to file for 30-day extensions of their temporary licenses while their background checks are being completed.

The board “sits in a very precarious situation with trying to take care of the licensees and taking care of the public,” she said. “Protecting the public is the primary focus.”

But some experienced nurses have been sent home because of the processing delays.

Laurie Martin, a registered nurse with 35 years experience, said she moved from Tennessee to Maryland to take a job with a Baltimore hospital but has been out of work for three weeks. She said she”s been fingerprinted three times in the past six months and has been unable to practice in Maryland since her temporary license expired last month.

“I can’t work right now because of their problem,” Mrs. Martin said.

Mrs. Martin drove from her home in Elkton, Md., to Baltimore to have her fingerprints taken for the background check, but her prints were rejected the first time they were submitted, and she never heard from the Nursing Board after submitting the two other sets of prints.

Mrs. Martin said earlier this week that she was frustrated that the board had not fixed the problem.

“My biggest beef is you can’t just take a license away from people if [the state isn’t] able to uphold their end of the law,” she said.

After inquiries about the case from The Washington Times, a representative for the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System, the state’s fingerprint-processing agency, yesterday afternoon expedited Mrs. Martin’s case, and her license was reinstated.

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