CARSON CITY — Nevadans who use the services of a homeopath, funeral home, marriage therapist or private investigator might engage these professionals with the assumption that their conduct is scrutinized by state officials looking out for their welfare.
After all, the professions, along with many others, are regulated by state law and are overseen by boards and commissions appointed by the governor. The primary job of the boards is to protect the public by ensuring those licensed to provide the services are qualified to do so.
But a recent review of the data reported by these boards, just several of the nearly 40 professions regulated by state law, might give a person pause to hold such beliefs.
The data from the occupational licensing boards and commissions is compiled on the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s website as required by a state law passed in 2001.
Some boards are current and even provide links to disciplinary actions, such as the Board of Medical Examiners.
But the information was not current by several of the boards when it was reviewed in late September, raising questions about whether they are doing their job to protect the public. After being contacted about the omissions, most boards have updated the information. The Homeopathic Board has yet to do so.
The lack of reporting is an ongoing frustration for Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who co-authored the reporting bill. Some boards have to be constantly reminded of the reporting requirements, she said.
“The issue is public safety,” Carlton said. “It is why we require the reports and why we have state licensure. We need to know if a person is reputable enough to be serving the people of this state.”
The Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners, for example, has not reported any data for the past several years. The board’s quarterly reports show no information on the number of disciplinary actions against homeopaths, the number of licensees added or revoked. The board has seven members, four homeopathic physicians and three members of the public. It meets at least twice a year.
The agency’s own website does provide a list of licensed homeopaths and a complaint form, but does not include any disciplinary information. Homeopathy is based on the idea that if a substance causes a symptom in a healthy person, giving the person a small amount of the same substance might cure the illness.
Nancy Eklof, executive director of the Homeopathic Board since 2006, said she was unaware of the posting requirement and would update the data for the past several years. But Eklof, who is the only employee of her board and serves part time as an independent contractor, said it would take some time to do so.
She said disciplinary information is public and is provided to anyone who calls, but has not yet been made part of the board’s website.
Kevin Ingram, executive director of the five-member Private Investigators Licensing Board, said he too was unaware of the reporting requirement. Ingram took over the position in September 2012. The state hiring process is such that a new executive is not hired until the previous person has already left the job, so there is little opportunity for training from a predecessor, he said.
Ingram said because of that, he will set up a procedural manual so that a future director will have some guidance on the reporting requirements.
Raymond Smith, executive director of the nine-member Board of Examiners for Marriage and Family Therapists and Clinical Professional Counselors, said it has been a challenge keeping up with the reporting requirements as the only staff member. The board also recently took on the added workload of overseeing clinical professional counselors, he said.
Smith said he recently obtained some part-time assistance and was bringing the reporting up to date. He said the public should be confident that the board is doing its job of regulating the professionals it oversees.
“I spend a lot of time trying to make that happen,” Smith said.
The Nevada State Funeral Board had reported data through March of 2013 as of late September, but showed only two disciplinary actions dating from 2010 with no detail. Its website includes a complaint form but no information about disciplinary actions. The data on the legislative website has now been updated.
SANDOVAL: UNAWARE OF CONCERNS
Gov. Brian Sandoval said his office can help communicate the legislative reporting requirements to the boards, and noted that issues with the Funeral Board were addressed in the 2013 legislative session.
But none of the boards have communicated any concerns to his office about issues with staffing or funding, he said.
“I haven’t gotten any feedback that they are underfunded,” Sandoval said in response to a recent query. “No one has called me and said that they felt, in any way, that the safety of the public has been compromised because of their inability to meet their needs.”
Carlton, who sought the reporting law with then-state Sen. Randolph Townsend, acknowledged that board members serve only limited hours, typically with only token pay if that, and that executive staff can be stretched thin or turn over often.
The boards do get assistance on following the open meeting law and other requirements from the Nevada attorney general’s office.
The laws establishing the various occupational boards are unique to each group, with different rules on how they operate and oversee their professions.
Carlton said efforts to eliminate, consolidate or reorganize some of the boards have failed in the past due to limited state finances or because the boards themselves resist any effort to make changes. Sandoval shares some of the responsibility for ensuring the boards perform their duties and provide transparency about their work, Carlton said.
“We don’t have total control,” she said. “They really are a stepchild of the Legislature. They are part of the executive branch. We can set the rules but they set the tone.”
SOME WANT TO ABOLISH FUNERAL BOARD
Concerns arise from time to time from lawmakers or others about whether a specific board is doing its job.
Carlton pointed to the Funeral Board as an example of a dysfunctional panel that should be eliminated. An effort this past session to transfer its duties to the state Department of Health and Human Services failed when some board members resisted and brought in a lobbyist to defeat the proposal, she said.
A bill was passed in the session, however, that the industry hopes will bring about positive changes starting this year.
At a legislative hearing on the proposal to do away with the board, the minutes show Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, minced no words: “I want to get rid of this board. Three years went by with no financial reporting. When we finally got the reports in 2012 for the year 2010, I discovered that the executive director makes more money than the board takes in.”
Diane Shaffer, executive director of the board for 16 years, rejected Carlton’s criticisms, saying the board has run smoothly and done its job over the years.
She also noted that Kirkpatrick’s information was incorrect. The board budget is about $59,000 a year and Shaffer said she was making $54,000 a year as a contract employee with no benefits. The salary was reduced to $43,200 in July 2012 because of budget problems, she said.
But changes that took effect on Oct. 1 included expanding the board from five to seven members and implementing a new $10 fee for each signed funeral contract that will bring in added revenue to help it perform its duties. Legislative testimony indicated the new fee would bring in between $150,000 to $175,000 a year, enough to hire additional staff to review complaints.
Shaffer, who will lose her position as a result of the new law, said the board has complied with state open meeting law requirements during her tenure, but transparency concerns cannot be fully addressed because of the statute the board must follow. Disciplinary actions, for example, cannot be made public unless they go to the board for a hearing, she said.
The board has the authority to shut down a funeral home if circumstances merit such an action, but Shaffer said that has not occurred in Nevada for many years.
Shaffer continues to serve as the executive director until the newly constituted board meets for the first time this fall.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801