ANNAPOLIS — Maryland nursing officials are responsible for nurses recently losing their jobs for not having their criminal background checks, the director of the state Criminal Justice Information System said yesterday.
Director Carole Shelton said the FBI confirmations sent via e-mail were left unopened by the Maryland Board of Nursing.
"The [nursing board is] not too customer-friendly from what I understand," Mrs. Shelton said. "We support nurses getting background checks ... but there"s got to be a system that works from [the nursing board"s] side."
The discovery follows a report last week by The Washington Times that found Maryland nurses were losing their jobs because of a new state law requiring the background checks.
Mrs. Shelton said the agency, which fingerprints nurses and sends the information electronically to the FBI, will meet today with the nursing board to discuss a solution and to prepare for the next wave of nurses.
Patricia Ann Noble, the nursing board director, said she is not sure how many nurses were affected by the missed e-mails but hopes to fix the problem at the meeting today.
"I am totally unaware of e-mails that do not get opened," she said yesterday. "What we"re trying to do is see where the computer glitch areas are."
New nurses and nurses moving to Maryland must complete the check as part of the law that took effect in January. The law will extend to nurses applying for renewals in 2008.
Unread e-mails are automatically deleted after 30 days, Mrs. Shelton said.
She said the agency also processes such checks for other state agencies, which have had no problems opening the e-mails before the 30 days.
The problems have exacerbated a chronic nursing shortage in Maryland.
"We can"t afford in the state of Maryland to lose any nurses," said Rosemary Mortimer, interim executive director of the Maryland Nurses Association. "If there"s any way we at MNA can help, we stand ready to help."
The statewide nursing vacancy rate increased to 13 percent, or almost 2,340 nurses, last year. That figure is up from 10 percent in 2005, the Maryland Hospital Association reported this month. Nursing vacancies hit 15.6 percent at the height of the state nursing shortage in 2001.
More than 60 percent of other states require criminal background checks or have passed legislation to require such checks for nurses. However, Maryland is the only one that has had serious problems implementing the law, a spokeswoman for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing said last week.
Laurie Martin, a nurse who moved to Maryland from Tennessee, lost her job in Baltimore after her temporary license expired last month. Mrs. Martin completed three sets of fingerprints during six months and was only reinstated after an inquiry from The Times.
Dania Salerno, who moved from New Jersey, temporarily lost her job until the e-mail validating her background check was discovered unopened by the nursing board after prodding by Mrs. Shelton.