Prosecutors in Shelbyville, Tennessee say Bobbie Gail Blair, 49, has been working as a nurse for 15 years even though she didn’t have a license to practice. She was employed at the in-house medical clinic in a Tyson Foods plant before being ousted from the job due to her lack of credentials.
According to Detective Nathan Everhart, Blair graduated from the licensed practical nurse program at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in McMinnville in 2007. But she failed the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) twice that same year and never took the test again.
Everhart also said Blair was working under a fake license with the same number as two legitimate LPNs in the state, but it’s still not clear who forged the license. The detective reached out to one of the two nurses, who said they didn’t know Blair or anyone else in Shelbyville.
“It’s just something that slipped through the cracks,” said Detective Everhart. “I don’t think anyone there knew that she didn’t have a license. They assumed she did.”
Records show Blair has worked at the Tyson clinic since 2007. Everhart estimates that she must have treated around 15,000 patients over the last 15 years based on the average workload of the clinic.
He also noted that Blair is the wife of the plant manager, which may have helped her get the job.
The clinic is staffed with five nurses, who treat employees for various aches and pains, ranging from minor injuries to amputated body parts.
An anonymous employee at the company released a statement in light of the allegations. “It infuriates and sickens me that someone would impersonate a nurse or any other medical professional. She undermined and downplayed our licensed professional medical judgment and actions to give the utmost care to our team members and patients. Not only has she done this to us, but the Tyson corporation, as well,” they said.
Blair has been charged with 10 counts of impersonation of a medical professional and two counts of identity theft. She was arrested Friday and was released on a $10,000 bond.
“We take this issue very seriously. While we don’t comment on active criminal matters, as soon as law enforcement reached out, we fully cooperated,” said a spokesperson for the company.
Tyson is currently the largest meatpacking company in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. Headquartered in Arkansas, it processes about 20% of all beef, pork, and chicken purchased in the country. But the company’s internal healthcare system has been drawing criticism for years.
An anonymous worker who used the name Maria said the job permanently disfigured her hand, leaving her numb. She operated one of the large machines in an Arkansas packing plant for years, working 10-hour days four days a week. The accident occurred while she was cutting a chicken wing, but she said if the knife doesn’t go all the way through the bird, she could easily get hurt. Maria used to cut around 20,000 chickens a day, approximately 34 per minute.
Tyson implemented onsite internal healthcare as a way of cutting costs. But Maria said the nurses on staff in the clinic didn’t give her the paperwork to properly document the injury. “They have you sit there for a bit and put a bag of ice on you for 15-20 minutes and then they tell you to go back to work.”
María added that her requests to see a doctor were denied after months of visiting the internal clinic. The company delayed her access to medical care, proper treatment, and time to heal. Other workers, including a former nurse, and federal investigators looking into the meatpacking industry say her experience isn’t uncommon.
One former nurse, identified as Nurse J, said the company often pressures nurses to provide first aid to workers to avoid having to document their injuries.
Each Tyson plant has a nurse manager who is responsible for making decisions about how an injured worker is treated, including when to approve a visit to a doctor. But Nurse J said that some of these managers have no medical background.
“If you were to take 20 nurse managers and ask them if they ever had pressure from their management, the answer would almost always be ‘yes,’” said Nurse J.