Vitale Health Care Responsibility And Reporting Bill Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale, known as the “Health Care Professional Responsibility and Reporting Enhancement Act,” which would require greater peer reporting of incompetence and negligence in the wake of the Charles Cullen murders of patients under his care as a nurse was approved by the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee today.

“In the health care field, we’re still shaken by the proficiency and effectiveness with which Charles Cullen exploited the system and avoided notice to kill an alleged 40 patients under his care,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The only way this could have happened is through a complete systemic breakdown of the safety net designed to keep killers away from vulnerable patients. We must take the steps to ensure that the safety net is intact, and that patients are protected from murderers while in the care of health care facilities.”

Known as the “Health Care Professional Responsibility and Reporting Enhancement Act,” Senator Vitale’s bill, S-1805, would increase protections to allow medical 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.

“The current safeguards in place have holes you could drive a truck through, and Charles Cullen drove that truck,” said Senator Vitale. “We need to encourage and foster greater disclosure of incompetence and negligence of health care professionals that could have a deleterious effect on the health and well-being of patients in their care. Without assurances that negligent health care workers are being reported and removed, New Jersey’s residents cannot have any faith in the medical community as a whole.”

A second bill, S-2047, which would create a 15-member task force to help implement and monitor the provisions of the “Health Care Professional Responsibility and Enhanced Reporting Act,” was also approved by the Senate Health Committee today.

“Without some sort of watchdog group to ensure that the increased reporting standards are accomplishing the desired goal, we’re essentially trusting our lives in the honor system every time we visit the doctor’s office,” said Senator Vitale. “This Task Force will keep the health care reforms of the Professional Responsibility and Reporting Act moving forward, and will allow us to do whatever’s necessary to fix problems with the original law quickly and efficiently.”

Senator Vitale added that the impetus of both bills, 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.

“We had one Charles Cullen in New Jersey, and one is too many,” said Senator Vitale. “We must ensure that the deceptions and exploitations of Charles Cullen are an anomaly, not a pattern, in health care in New Jersey.”

S-1804 now heads to the full Assembly for consideration. It was approved by the Senate in October. The companion bill, S-2047, heads to the full Senate for a vote.