Lawsuit Says California Nursing Board Shouldn’t Limit Number of Nursing Students

March 11, 2020 Updated: March 11, 2020

A long-brewing debate over nursing shortages in California and their relation to nursing school enrollment caps has spilled over into the court system.

The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) may be contributing to a severe nursing shortage by capping the number of students that nursing schools in the state can accept, a recent lawsuit asserts—while the BRN itself claims there is no nursing shortage at all.

The lawsuit—filed by the American Career College (ACC) in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 2—claims that the Board repeatedly uses “underground regulations” to exert its authority and restrict enrollment.

The term “underground regulations” refers to any attempt by a state agency to enforce a rule without following the legally-binding Administrative Procedures Act.

“The BRN’s attempt to limit enrollment of nursing students at ACC campuses through underground regulations based on the BRN’s strained interpretation of statutes comes at a time of a nursing shortage in the state of California,” the lawsuit claims.

The BRN contests the notion that the state is experiencing a nursing shortage.

“When viewed by region, some areas of California have an oversupply of nurses, while a few others, such as the Central Valley, have a shortage,” the Board told The Epoch Times via email, citing a recent University of California–San Francisco, study.

A 2017 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects a deficit of 44,500 nurses across the state within the next decade—numbers the lawsuit claims are a direct result of the Board’s actions to limit enrollment.

“BRN has recently engaged in a series of extra-legal attempts to [grant] itself powers denied to it under the unambiguous terms of the California Nursing Practices Act to dictate how many students a nursing school can enroll,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims BRN has no legal authority to cap enrollment, but BRN nonetheless requires nursing schools to get its approval before “changing their enrollment numbers by a single student.”

The Board told The Epoch Times: “Protection of the public is the highest priority for the Board of Registered Nursing in exercising its regulatory role, including its role in ensuring the education of safe and competent registered nurses. The Board has approved additional educational opportunities in areas where shortages have been shown.”

ACC is a college of health care professions with campuses in Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Ontario. It has educated over 50,000 nursing and health care students over the past four decades. In 2018, more than 90 percent of its nursing graduates passed their licensing exam and obtained jobs within 90 days.

According to BRN’s own data, about 22,000 qualified applicants to nursing programs in the state were denied admission due to enrollment caps in 2016–17, the lawsuit states.

“The ability of a nursing school to provide this training is one of many elements the Board considers as part of school approval,” the BRN told The Epoch Times. “The hands-on clinical training nursing students receive in the field with actual patients is important to the education of safe and competent registered nurses.

“Changes in the health care landscape, combined with the explosion in new nursing schools and the expansion of existing schools, have impacted multiple schools’ ability to provide this critical training to their students,” BRN added.

The suit is asking for a peremptory writ of mandate declaring that BRN does not have the authority, power, or purview to cap nursing school enrollment.