The Channel 4 I-Team has learned that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has opened a high-level investigation of several state lawmakers and the Tennessee Department of Health. The investigation centers on possible official misconduct and false reporting charges.
The Channel 4 I-Team has learned the TBI is looking into the cases of three nurse practitioners whose licenses were suspended for over-prescribing medication. In some cases, the patients died. The orders suspending those licenses were rescinded in May.
Now investigators are looking into possible misconduct as to how those nurses were exonerated and whether illegal political pressure was applied to get them off the hook, and whether the health department acted illegally in dropping the case.
According to a report in the Kingsport Times News in May, three former nurse practitioners accused of contributing to two patients' deaths have been exonerated and their licenses restored, with Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, saying he's the "rascal behind the scenes that made it happen."
A spokeswoman for the TBI said in June they were directed by District Attorney Torry Johnson to investigate possible official misconduct and false reporting where nurses licenses were revoked and then rescinded under questionable circumstances.
The spokeswoman also confirmed that members of the Tennessee General Assembly are also being investigated but would not confirm if Shipley was among them.
TBI spokeswoman Kristen Helm said the agency is "investigating the facts surrounding the nurses licenses being reinstated to determine if there was any misconduct that rises to a criminal level."
Tennessee Department of Health spokeswoman Andrea Turner said the department is cooperating fully with the TBI investigation.
"We are providing information and responding to requests as needed to assist in this matter," said Turner. "It is inappropriate for the department to offer further comment at this time."
The Channel 4 I-Team spoke with Shipley, who confirmed the TBI is coming to interview him, but he does not think he's done anything wrong and that the nursing board made the decision to reinstate the nurses' licenses on their own.
The Channel 4 I-Team has not identified the other lawmakers being interviewed by the TBI.
According to Tennessee Department Health records, the Board of Nursing disciplined registered nurses Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew last year based on allegations that they had provided substandard care that "caused patients harm, and in the cases of patients T.H. and A.B. contributed to their deaths." At the time, the three nurses were employed as nurse practitioners at Appalachian Medical Center, 3010 Bristol Highway, Johnson City, according to the Times News.
During a May phone interview with The Times News, Shipley recalled he and state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, were "red-faced furious" with the Board of Nursing upon learning of the situation in late May or early June of last year.
According to the newspaper report, summary suspension orders put them out of a job effective March 11, 2010. Stout and Killebrew's suspension orders were later set aside in favor of probation, according to minutes from a September 2010 meeting. Terms of their probation included signing of Tennessee Professional Assistance Program monitoring agreements, completion of certain education requirements and payment of costs and fines.
In October 2010, the board affirmed a two-year suspension of Reynolds' advanced practice certification, voided his multi-state practice privileges and ordered his registered nursing license to be placed on probation pending a Tennessee Professional Assistance Program evaluation. If no monitoring contract was deemed necessary, the order stated probation was not required.
On May 5 of this year, the board finally agreed to retract all disciplinary action taken against the nurses and to restore their licenses to the blemish-free state that existed prior to March 11, 2010. The decision immediately followed the trio's presentation of petitions citing new evidence concerning the two deceased patients and certain individuals whose testimony factored into the board's decision to take action against them.
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