A.G.: Lakes Region General Hired Chief Nursing Officer Who Wasn't A Registered Nurse

Mar 26, 2018

Lakes Region General Healthcare has been accused of violating consumer protection laws by hiring a Chief Nursing Officer who didn’t have a New Hampshire nursing license.

State officials claim LRGHealthcare learned that its former nursing chief, Patricia Strohla, lacked proper credentials while recruiting her for the position in 2016. According to the state, Strohla previously held a nursing license in Maine and told LRGHealthcare she would work to bring her license into compliance as needed.

Strohla could not be immediately reached for comment, but both she and LRGHealthcare have denied any wrongdoing in resolution agreements filed with the state.

As part of those agreements, each are paying financial penalties — $40,000 in the hospital’s case, $1,500 in Strohla’s — which will fund future consumer protection work.

According to state records and the hospital’s own marketing materials, Strohla and LRGHealthcare CEO Kevin Donovan previously worked together at Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Vermont.

While LRGHealthcare’s original job description for its chief nursing position required candidates to have an active nursing license, the state says officials modified that requirement to allow for a one-year grace period so that Strohla could still be hired.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jim Boffetti said LRGHealthcare gave the public no indication that she wasn’t actually a registered nurse once she was brought on board.

“They issued her a pin that she wore to identify herself to everyone who came into the hospital that she was an RN,” said Boffetti, who leads the state’s consumer protection unit. “They put her on their website, so that if someone looked at the hospital's website they would have seen that their Chief Nursing Officer, according to them, was properly licensed, when they knew that she wasn't.”

Boffetti said his office first learned of the situation in through a LRGHealthcare staffer acting as a whistleblower.

Separately, Boffetti says the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services also conducted its own audit of LRGHealthcare in response to a staffer’s complaint about the situation in June 2017.

As a result of that review, CMS cited LRGHealthcare for violating state and federal rules by hiring Strohla for its top nursing role. In turn, the state says LRGHealthcare appointed a new Chief Nursing Officer and reassigned Strohla to a new position as the Interim Vice President of Operations.

At this time, Strohla no longer works for LRGHealthcare, according to the state.

In an emailed statement, LRGHealthcare spokeswoman Sandra Marshall said that after being cited by CMS in July 2017, the hospital “immediately rectified the situation and put in place safeguards to ensure that it would not happen again.” The LRGHealthcare statement continues:

The Assurance of Discontinuance agreement memorializes those safeguards with the Attorney General’s Office, which are as follows: (1) any person hired into the role of Chief Nursing Officer going forward will be required to have a valid New Hampshire Nursing License; (2) the organization will continuously monitor the licensure status of all nursing personnel; and (3) no personnel shall use the designation “RN” unless appropriately licensed within New Hampshire. LRGHealthcare cooperated fully with the investigation and signing of the agreement does not signify any wrongdoing on its part. Rather, LRGHealthcare and the State of New Hampshire agreed to settle the matter with a $40,000 settlement payment, closing the case and moving on in the best interest of all parties involved.

Boffetti, with the consumer protection unit, says he has encountered other cases where a professional claimed to have credentials they actually lacked, but this case is “somewhat different” than any other he’s dealt with before.

“When you go to a place like that, you want to know that the person you’re dealing with is properly credentialed and properly licensed,” he said. “And if that doesn’t happen then that’s something that we take seriously and will investigate fully.”