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Bill would automatically suspend nurses who fail addiction program

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, the Star Tribune has published a series of articles over the past few months that have been highly critical of the Minnesota Board of Nursing’s disciplinary process. The investigation revealed a number of nurses still providing direct patient care despite having potentially-disqualifying misdemeanor convictions, and others who continued practicing despite having failed drug or mental illness monitoring. The governor even accused the Nursing Board of being “asleep at the switch.”

The Nursing Board responded that it didn’t have the authority to immediately suspend nurses for skipping or failing drug screenings through the Health Professionals Services Program, or HPSP. Instead, the board is required to go through a formal disciplinary process meant to protect the rights of nurses.

The board may soon be given that power, however. This week, a bill was introduced in the Minnesota House that would automatically suspend the license of any nurse discharged from the HPSP due to continued substance abuse.

At the same time, even the Board of Nursing finds the HPSP problematic. According to the Star Tribune, the board came forward with 30 concerns about the program. The reporter cited the board’s concerns about poor communication between agencies and a lack of immediate consequences for failed drug tests. The board, however, specifically noted that no study of the HPSP has ever been performed to confirm its effectiveness. It also pointed out, among other issues, that it had no ability to distinguish between activities caused by the illness of addiction and matters affecting the competency of nurses to practice.

Unfortunately, the chair of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee seems to see the problem as a lack of incentives for addicted nurses to comply with the HPSP. Yet every nurse in the program already knows that his or her license is already on the line.

The consequences of limiting protections for nurses accused of addiction could be extremely serious. An automatic license suspension may seem straightforward in principle, but the course of addiction is often much more complicated in reality.


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