As health law attorneys, we are often contacted by nurses who decided to self-report, were set up by colleagues, involved in an off duty incident (DUI, narcotics possession), or drug tested at work and were directed to IPN as a result. These nurses now may face years of problems because they agreed to IPN in an attempt to save their license.
For those who have never heard of it, IPN stands for Intervention Project for Nurses. It is a program based in Florida aimed at providing an avenue for swift intervention/close monitoring and advocacy of nurses whose practice may be impaired due to the use, misuse, or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or a mental and/or physical condition. Other states have similar programs, like TPAPN (Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses) in Texas or RAMP (Recovery and Monitoring Program) in New Jersey.
Let’s set things straight. IPN is not the easy way out if you are trying to save your license. Although IPN may have some benefits in rehabilitating a truly impaired nurse, for others, it only causes mounting problems. We hear so many horror stories about nurses who turned to IPN to save their licenses, only to never again be able to practice.
When you agree to IPN, you are agreeing to many, often unclear consequences. Nurses accepted into IPN must sign a five (5) year contract agreeing to monitoring, weekly counseling meetings, regular psychiatric visits, random urinalysis testing (with a mandatory call in every day of your life for the five year period), mandatory notification of all employers that you are in IPN and why, a strict prohibition on drinking any alcoholic beverage, or taking any medication (even over the counter medications) without the prior approval of IPN, possible loss of your privilege to administer narcotics, possible loss of your privilege to access any prescription medications, a possible requirement that you only work under the supervision of another registered nurse, and other possible requirements.
These stipulations are extremely expensive, especially if a nurse is not working (many currently or previously in IPN cannot find jobs). Drug testing, rehab and consults all must be paid for and can cost thousands of dollars. If you ever miss a drug test or a support group session or consultation ever comes back to IPN with less than perfect reviews of you, your contract may be extended or further consequences can be added (like license restrictions). Furthermore, not all IPN counselors and specialists should be viewed the same, and there are not any uniform evaluation requirements for the specialists. It is our experience that some are better than others, and some should be avoided at all costs! Just because you are 100% innocent of any charge against you and have a clean drug test, a specialist can still find fault leading to more problems for you.
Many nurses that have had major problems with IPN are nurses who have been prescribed medications. In IPN, it does NOT matter if you have a prescription. If you have a medical condition that requires treatment with a narcotic or other IPN banned medication (like Ritalin), you CANNOT take it. Shouldn’t nurses be able to be treated the same as anyone else? Additionally, you cannot have any alcohol, and IPN will test for alcohol use.
While the medication and alcohol restrictions are harsh, some nurses who have been subjected to IPN say that the worst thing is the negative stigma associated with nurses in IPN. You can get lucky with a contract that does not require random testing, without mandatory participation in weekly meetings. However, you will ALWAYS have to let your employer or potential employer know about IPN. It is our experience that this knowledge will prevent you from getting hired, most of the time, despite IPN’s claim that plenty of IPN nurses have jobs. Even if there are no restrictions on your license, you will still have a difficult time ever getting job, making your license (which you thought IPN could save) worthless.
When you are faced with any kind of allegation as a nurse, always remember that you have the right to an attorney during any questioning whether as part of an initial investigation, during a hearing, and while reviewing and considering a consent agreement. A drawback for many nurses faced with charges is the cost of an attorney. However, please consider that you are facing the possibility of a restricted license, a revoked license, and/or ending up with charges next to your name that may end your ability to ever practice as a nurse. Struggling to find work under IPN’s stipulations and with a restricted license is not easy, if at all possible. The cost of hiring an attorney who may be able to save your license and livelihood is well worth it when compared with the alternative of never being able to find work.
However, before you decide to hire legal representation, research health law expert attorneys in your area. A board certified health law attorney should be very familiar with cases involving IPN and should have experience going before the Board of Nursing. But do not make your attorney’s job difficult. Consult with a health law attorney before you make any decisions. After you sign an agreement with the Board of Nursing, an attorney’s options to assist you become limited. Even if you are 100% innocent, an attorney might not be able to get you out of IPN after you have already made a deal.
When the nurse may actually have committed the offense, there are a number of administrative and procedural measures which an experienced health care attorney may be able to use to avoid a suspension. This will also prevent the matter from becoming public until much later in the process.
For the innocent nurse, an experienced attorney familiar with Board of Nursing proceedings may be able to obtain additional drug testing, polygraph (lie detector) testing, scientific evidence, expert witnesses, evaluations by certified addictions professionals, character references, or other evidence which shows that the nurse is innocent of the charges.
We hope that this information will help nurses navigate IPN and Board of Nursing negotiations. Please, pass this information on to all nurses you know, so that unnecessary consequences can be prevented.
For more information, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.