LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A woman who worked for five years as a nurse at an Arkansas elementary school never actually had a license, authorities said Friday.
Suzanne Elaina Johnson, 49, of Pleasant Plains, who also went by Suzanne Pitts, is charged with practicing nursing without a license and has a court appearance set for Aug. 2 for the misdemeanor charge. Johnson had worked at Sidney Deener Elementary School in the Searcy School District since 2007. Searcy is about 50 miles northwest of Little Rock.
The attorney for the Arkansas Nursing Board, Fred Knight, said that while it takes only a few seconds on the agency's website to confirm whether a person has a nursing license, it's unlikely the school district would check it.
"In all fairness to the school, the school is in the business of educating. They check and verify licenses for teachers and instructors. It probably never occurred to them to check the nurse's license," Knight said.
The agency's website shows she has never been licensed in Arkansas as a nurse. A national registry doesn't show Johnson licensed either, Knight said.
The Nursing Board never received any complaints about how Johnson treated patients. A state Health Department nursing consultant who advises schools was the first to raise a question about Johnson's license, according to the board's investigative file, which The Associated Press obtained through an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.
The school district is "going back and monitoring our procedures to safeguard against something like this occurring again," Superintendent Dianne Barrett said.
She said Johnson "technically" remains employed by the district. The Nursing Board file on Johnson shows she was working as a summer school nurse and "will be relieved of that duty until she can present a verifiable and current Arkansas nursing license."
Johnson was arrested July 10 and released the same day on $5,500 bond.
There was no answer at a phone number for Johnson and she didn't reply to a text message from The Associated Press. Knight said the board has also tried to contact her without success. The Searcy District Court clerk's office said no attorney was listed in Johnson's case file.
Anderson said on her job application with the Searcy district that she graduated from Vanderbilt University with a nursing degree and that she was also an EMT.
Problems with Johnson's licensure documents include formatting and font type that are inconsistent with computer-generated licenses issued by the Nursing Board and an expiration date that doesn't match the license renewal cycle, according to the investigative file.
The file notes that Johnson presented an emergency medical technician certification that was not issued to her and her Arkansas driver license had an altered signature and name.
The board also found that Johnson had worked as a nurse for a health care center in Lebanon, Tenn., about 10 years ago. That company fired her when it could not verify her license, the file said.
Cases of people impersonating nurses are rare because it's a hard profession to fake, Knight said. Johnson's job involved "assisting children who were diabetics, administering oral medications, giving injections, the works," he said.
"I'm not going to say it's never happened before. We do have nurse impostors out there, some who worked longer than (Johnson) did," he said. "Fortunately ... there aren't many of them."
Because the charge is a misdemeanor, the case is being pursued by Searcy City Attorney Buck Gibson. He didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Searcy police wouldn't provide more information, other than to say Johnson was still being investigated.
Barrett said she has received only two calls from parents since word got out that Johnson was unlicensed.
"One was from a concerned parent. Another (caller was) more upset because she loved what the nurse did with her child," Barrett said.
The Nursing Board issued a cease and desist order against Johnson, Knight said. The panel couldn't take other action because Johnson never had a legitimate license, he said.
Knight said Johnson had also worked in the White County School District. No one answered the phone Friday at that district's office.
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Arkansas Nursing Board: http://www.arsbn.arkansas.gov/Pages/default.aspx
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