Saturday, August 16, 2008

Impairment or Substance Abuse Attorney

What to do and where to go when you have an impairment issue? Yesterday seemed to be a day where I spoke to many different people about impairment. I spent a great deal of time speaking to one of my law partners, Jeff McDonald (I think he is incredibly knowledgeable about substance abuse, recovery and professionals and I am not the only person who thinks this). I listened as Jeff McDonald explained our firm's stance toward substance abuse and mental illness: We represent many impaired professionals, doctors, nurses, and other health care providers before their respective boards. We believe that substance abuse and mental illness are diseases and that as the lawyer for a health care provider, it is our job to do what is best for the individual. Sometimes that involves getting the provider into treatment immediately if their disease has gotten the best of them. Some attorneys will appear before regulatory boards, such as the Medical Board or Nursing Board, and deny the disease. We do not believe that this approach is in the best interest of the licensee.

So, why am I posting this information? I also had a conversation yesterday regarding how many nurses do not see addiction or mental illness as diseases, but rather a personality choice or defect and how this perception is hindering providing much needed support for their colleagues. Currently, physicians, physician assistants and acupuncturists have private, non-disciplinary rehabilitation orders that allow these professionals to get treatment but not to be punished for it. Nurses have not been able to get the same option. Now, there are steps being considered to take the rehabilitation order away from those professions that do have it. We need to fight to get the best options available to professionals to help them obtain the help they need without the stigma and punishment attached. When professionals are punished rather than supported, it does not improve the practice and it definitely does not protect the public, it forces professionals to NOT seek treatment for fear of punishment. When employers refuse to hire a nurse because she is in TPAPN or under a Board Order for monitoring, they are sending a message to those nurses thinking about getting help - "If you are responsible and seek treatment, you will not have a job." This causes the nurse to choose his/her work over his/her treatment of the disease. We can stop this and we can make our practice safer by understanding and supporting our colleagues that need help.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Should you represent yourself before the Board of Nursing?

It has happened again, a nurse called wanting to know if it was safe to represent herself before the Board of Nursing. She thought that they would understand her side of the story and that although she did violate the law, they know how it is for nurses right now. She had discussed the incident with some co-workers and they told her that the Board was on the side of nurses. Thank goodness while looking on the Internet, she came across some information that made her pause and call me for further information because what she had been told was incorrect and potentially damaging to her nursing license.

There are lots of articles and blogs out there explaining the pitfalls of representing oneself before the Board. I just read Latonia Wright's blog entry about the same issue, "Are You Receiving Legal Advice from your colleagues at the water cooler?" Ms. Wright is an attorney representing nurses in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. So, this issue is not just limited to one state. All nurses in all states should contact an experienced lawyer to assist them if there is an inquiry or investigation by the Board of Nurses. Please read my posts about how to pick an attorney and why a nurse needs an attorney if facing the Nursing Board.