Candidate Patti Clapper’s nursing career stymied by probation
November 3, 2014
During her campaign for Pitkin County commissioner, Patti Clapper and her supporters have touted her 35-year background as a registered nurse and how she will apply that experience as an elected official. But Clapper hasn't practiced as a nurse since the 1990s because of sanctions levied on her by the state of Colorado.
A stipulation and order by the state Board of Nursing, dated Jan. 28, 1999, placed Clapper on probation for two years because of the state's determination that she inadequately treated an elderly patient from Dec. 7, 1995, to Jan. 26, 1996.
The order was delivered the same month Clapper was sworn in for her first of three terms as county commissioner before being term-limited out of office 12 years later. Ever since the order — which Clapper signed — took effect, she has not been a practicing nurse. That's because she refused to complete terms of a probation she insists were unjustified.
In an interview Thursday, Clapper said she felt that she was the victim of a "malicious" complaint that sparked the probation. She maintains that she committed no wrongdoing.
“I’ve kept my license because I worked so hard to get it. To try and start all over again would be impossible.”
Candidate for Pitkin County commissioner
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"But I kept my license current," said Clapper, who currently works three jobs. "I'm still able to keep my license; I just don't practice. And people know that I haven't been practicing for 15 years."
Cory Everett, senior adviser to the division director for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which is the umbrella organization for the Board of Nursing, confirmed Thursday that Clapper's nursing license is active but with conditions.
"The stipulation is for two years probation," Everett wrote in an email. "The probation period shall be served only while the licensee is employed as a professional nurse. If the licensee does not work as a professional nurse, the two years does not run. The stipulation is still in effect and her license status is 'active with conditions' as long as she renews her license. Should she work under her license, she would be required to work under the terms of the stipulation for two years."
According to the state's order, Clapper oversaw a patient at his home and she "admits she may have failed to receive and/or respond on occasion to pager calls (the pager battery being inoperative at times)."
Media were tipped off
The order was given to The Aspen Times on Wednesday by supporters of incumbent Rob Ittner, who sits on the District 1 seat of the Board of County Commissioners. Documents provided to the Times did not include Clapper's letter to the state defending her actions and questioning the disciplinary process, which this newspaper independently acquired.
On Thursday, Ittner distanced himself from having a role in providing the media with the state's order.
"Absolutely not," he said when asked if he played a part.
Ittner said he learned about Clapper's probation last week.
"I wasn't aware that it was dropped off at the paper," he said. "Someone stopped me on the street corner last week and told me of the issues with her license. You know how it is right now, all of this political madness going back and forth."
Ittner recalled the 2009 Aspen City Council campaign as a period of incivility. He wasn't seeking office at the time, but a bumper-sticker campaign — "Get JACK OFF City Council," which was in reference to incumbent Jack Johnson — negatively affected Ittner's image during his campaign for county commissioner in 2010, he said.
The sticker had been created by Elizabeth Milias, who runs the conservative and salty Red Ant blog. Milias supported Ittner in his successful campaign over Johnson in the commissioner race (Johnson had been defeated in his re-election bid for council). Ittner said he played no part in the "Get JACK OFF" campaign, just like he claimed to have no role in what Clapper called "dirty pool" the week before Election Day, which is Tuesday.
Clapper says she was a "scapegoat" for man's death
Clapper was first elected in November 1998. Prior to her triumph in that race, Clapper wrote a letter to the Colorado Board of Nursing. The letter concerned the pending case and her chagrin with the disciplinary process.
"I was first licensed to practice as a registered nurse in Nevada in 1979 and received my Colorado license in 1980," she wrote. "I've also held licenses in California and Washington state. Never at any time in any state has there been an issue of any kind pertaining to my license to practice nursing until the filing in March 1996 of what I believe to be an obviously malicious complaint."
In Thursday's interview, Clapper said she stands by the letter she wrote more than 16 years ago. She said the state board launched an investigation after a "disgruntled employee," who worked for a now-defunct local hospice, filed the complaint. She said the hospice retaliated because she refused to work for it after it took over care of the patient.
"They wanted me to do things that I wouldn't," she said. "And when the hospice came in, the man died."
Her 1999 letter to the state board also says as much, claiming she was a "scapegoat" because she honored the patient's request for no medical intervention.
"There was a complexity with this death and dying process that created an atmosphere of helplessness and a great deal of personal guilt," Clapper's letter says. "And isn't the need to blame one of the 'steps' an acknowledged phase of grieving?"
The state's order doesn't reflect that. Rather, it spells out the conditions of the patient in question — an 83-year-old man, with the initials "E.M.," who suffered from chronic spinal stenosis and collapsed vertebrae with severe pain and depression. Because Clapper failed to respond, on occasion, to the patient's pager calls, she was placed on probation with the following conditions:
• That she work for at least 120 hours per three-month segment, for eight months, in home health care.
• That she work under the supervision of a certified monitor with experience in home health care.
• That within one year of obtaining employment, she complete two board-approved courses in home health care.
• That she take nursing notes on all of her home health care cases.
Those conditions, and others, prompted Clapper to not address the probation, she said. She said she didn't want to fight the state because of the cost and time involved.
"I couldn't afford it," she said. "It would cost me about $8,000 (to go to trial). I never took it any further. There was no need for me to remedy the requirements."
Supporters of Clapper's candidacy have said her nursing experience bodes well for a county commissioner. Pitkin County Democratic Party Chairwoman Blanca O'Leary, in a recent letter to the editor supporting Clapper, wrote: "As a registered nurse, Ms. Clapper is concerned about providing strong health and human services support and she is especially concerned about strengthening the network of support for mental health crisis intervention services in our county."
Clapper said that she has no qualms about saying that she's a registered nurse, such as a recent political advertisement that stated, "As your commissioner, I will lead from my experience of 35 years as a registered nurse."
"It's not disingenuous at all," she said. "I still have a current license."
Clapper said she doubts she'll go back into nursing, not only because she'd need to serve probation first but also because she's been away from the practice for so long.
"I've kept my license because I worked so hard to get it," she said. "To try and start all over again would be impossible."