By Lucas L. Johnson II, The Associated Press
NASHVILLE - The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether lawmakers improperly intervened with a state board to help three nurse practitioners whose licenses were suspended.
The case grew out of a TBI investigation of fatal overdoses among patients of the now defunct Appalachian Medical Center.
Republican Rep. Tony Shipley has told the Kings-port Times-News that he used his legislative position to force the Tennessee Board of Nursing to reconsider the suspensions of Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the agency got a request last month from District Attorney General Torry Johnson in Nashville to investigate "any misconduct or false reporting by the Department of Health or Tennessee lawmakers who had influence over the board's decision to reinstate these licenses."
Shipley told the newspaper that he was directly involved in the nurses' cases, saying he was the "rascal behind the scenes that made it happen." He said that as a member of the Government Operations Committee, he took the position of blocking the extension of the nursing board until it heard the nurses' arguments.
The Kingsport Republican issued a statement Tuesday confirming the TBI investigation and said, "I am cooperating fully with them and I expect this matter to be resolved in short order."
Rep. Dale Ford, who also opposed the board's decision, told the AP that he proposed a bill to create an oversight committee for the board but withdrew it after the board agreed to "take another look" at the suspension of Reynolds, who owned the center, according to state records.
The Jonesborough Republican said his wife was a clinic patient and his sister worked there. He said Shipley would "never do anything unethical or illegal, and neither would I."
"They did the right thing, and I did the right thing," Ford said of the board's re-evaluation of the suspension. "They can investigate me all they want, because I haven't done anything wrong."
When the board suspended the licenses, it found that the three nurse practitioners failed to properly order diagnostic tests for patients before prescribing painkillers, continued to prescribe pain medication to patients identified by law enforcement as illegally selling the drugs and prescribed controlled substances to each other, according to minutes of the meeting. Two patients died of drug overdoses, the TBI said.
The board decided in May to restore the nurses' licenses after hearing petitions claiming that the board had not heard certain details about the deceased patients.
For instance, the nurses contended one patient had been crushing medications and injecting them via either an IV line or needle, and that the same patient had consumed 15 times the prescribed amount of oxycodone in a three-hour time frame, according to documents from the state health department.
As for the investigation, Helm said no state lawmakers have been interviewed and that the TBI has only been speaking with department of health officials. She declined to offer any names of lawmakers involved in the investigation, and said none of the nurses have been charged.
A spokeswoman for the health department said the agency is cooperating with the investigation.