Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2014

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RED TAPE CHRONICLES:

Turns out, open records of state nursing board aren’t so open

Request for school progress reports met with double-talk, resistance

Beyond the Sun

The Sun’s public records request was relatively straightforward.

The State Board of Nursing staff’s response over the course of a few months was not.

Instead of the information we wanted, we got incomplete documents, contradictory explanations, information “redacted” using what appeared to be a marker running out of ink.

The quest began in late January, when the newspaper asked the state agency for documents including the progress reports new nursing schools submit to the board every six months.

The records are important because they contain details on programs’ strengths and weaknesses and other information the board can use to gauge the performance of programs it helps regulate. The Sun wanted to examine the reports because the newspaper had found that many graduates of new nursing schools in Nevada, a state with one of the country’s worst nursing shortages, were struggling to pass the licensing exam on the first try.

Several weeks after requesting the documents, the Sun paid $122.40 for them. According to board staff, the charge covered the cost of staff time to retrieve the reports, copy them and redact any information that was not public. When Education Consultant Roseann Colosimo supplied the materials later, however, she said some requested reports were missing and that she would work to make those available.

A review of the documents Colosimo initially provided yielded some odd discoveries. Some “redacted” information was still readable, having been crossed out using what appeared to be a thin-tipped pen and a marker running out of ink. That was just fine by us, of course. But other reports appeared incomplete, with entire sections and pages missing. Some reports, for instance, included sections outlining programs’ strengths and weaknesses while others, including some from 2008, did not.

Asked about those discrepancies and other problems, Colosimo referred questions to Debra Scott, the board’s executive director.

Scott said the newspaper had all relevant documents the staff could find.

In an e-mail explaining why some reports covered more information than others, Scott wrote that prior to 2007, “there was little uniformity in the information that was presented.”

“There was some confusion on the part of the nursing programs as to what should be included in the Six Month Reports, so Dr. Colosimo created a form for the reports during 2007,” Scott wrote. “Prior to that time there was no uniformity ... Any information that was deleted from the 2007 and 2008 reports was done so to protect nursing faculty or student identity information or patient information.”

From there, explanations and responses began to veer off into double-talk and self-contradiction.

In a follow-up e-mail on the strengths and weaknesses sections, Scott wrote, “The information may or may not be available to the public, based on my decision. In general, the strengths and weaknesses of programs would be public information unless there were sensitive information, and then they may not be. I make those decisions as the custodian of records for the NSBN.”

Then, in a later conversation, Scott acknowledged she did not know what information Colosimo had excluded while fulfilling the Sun’s request.

“I trusted Dr. Colosimo to give you what was public information,” Scott said. “What I’m telling you is I haven’t even looked at that information. At this point, I have not taken the time to go down and to search through those documents. So, No. 1, there’s nothing in there that is newsworthy. I just think that it’s private information for those schools. They are sharing with their regulatory body some of the things they’re working on, and I don’t know why it’s such a big deal.

“I gave you the information that is appropriate to the public. You have caused my staff hours of work, and this is something that just — I don’t know why you won’t just kind of let it be and trust what I’m saying.”

She said the Sun could not speak with Colosimo.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said under state law, “unless an administrator can cite a specific law giving them an exception, then the record is open.

“It’s not about whether it’s newsworthy or important or who’s asking for it,” Smith said.

After the Sun asked Scott last week what legal authority she was citing in withholding information, the board’s attorney sent the Sun a one-line e-mail with no salutation: “The documents you requested are in the mail today.”

The new set of reports arrived at the Sun’s office the following business day, including information, such as details on programs’ strengths and weaknesses, left out of the initial response.

Most of the previously withheld material, while helpful in assessing nursing programs’ performance, was unremarkable in the sense that it did not reveal private information about faculty members, students or patients.

For instance, an erstwhile missing section from one Touro University report included the following line: “The majority of the existing faculty members are highly skilled and experienced, and exhibit a willingness to teach in a variety of courses.”

And the do-over was not without its own problems.

The second batch of documents failed to include new copies of some reports whose incomplete versions Colosimo had earlier supplied, and in one Apollo College report, “redacted” information including the name of a faculty member fired for “unsafe practice in the clinical setting” was still visible.

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