Vitale Bill Requiring Greater Medical Error Reporting Signed Into Law

‘Health Care Responsibility and Reporting Act’ to Address Safety Gaps Highlighted by Cullen Murders

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale, known as the “Health Care Responsibility and Reporting Act,” which will increase peer review and reporting of negligence and incompetence in response to the unreported murders of killer-nurse Charles Cullen, was signed into law today by Governor Richard J. Codey.

“Cullen abused the inherent trust we put in our health care professionals, killing approximately 40 people, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in recent history,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “That he was able to exploit his access as a caregiver to kill should be a wake-up call to the rest of the health care community that we need better peer reporting of negligent and suspicious activity. With these reforms now signed into law, concerned coworkers have a greater mandate to report incompetent and reckless behavior among health care providers.”

Known as the “Health Care Professional Responsibility and Reporting Enhancement Act,” Senator Vitale’s bill, S-1804, will increase protections to allow health care facilities to report to other facilities disciplinary actions taken against an employee for professional misconduct, improper patient care or other actions that impact a health care professional’s ability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety. The bill also requires greater disclosure from health care professionals and medical facilities to the State Division of Consumer Affairs when they have information regarding the incompetence or negligence of a coworker which would endanger patients, and requires criminal background checks of health care professionals who apply for licensure with the State.

“This new law, and all of its components, will require the reporting and sharing of suspicious behavior and potential acts of harm with licensing boards, and the duty to share patient-care-related job performance with any prospective employer,” said Senator Vitale. “The culture of secrecy and the ‘Hear no evil, See no evil’ attitude will, we believe, end today. New Jersey’s patients and their families deserve to know that the health care professionals in charge of their well-being are of the highest standards.”

Senator Vitale added that the impetus of the bill was the murders by Charles Cullen of approximately 40 patients in his care while working at 10 different health care facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over the last two decades. Cullen’s activities were eventually brought to light in December of 2003, when he was arrested for the murder of Reverend Florian Gall, a heart patient under his care at Somerset Medical Center.

“Cullen’s individual assault on vulnerable patients caused unimaginable suffering and death for them, and sorrow and heartbreak for their families and friends,” said Senator Vitale. “Today, we are putting into place the protections necessary to ensure that the selfish and horrible acts of Charles Cullen can never happen again.”

S-1804 was approved by the Senate in October of 2004 by a vote of 38-0, and was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 76-0 in March of this year.

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