Behavioral changes, frequent trips to the bathroom, medication errors, memory lapses, absences from the unit, or routinely getting to work late.
Do these behaviors sound like they could describe you on the job as a nurse? Perhaps these shifts crept up over time and weren't noticeable at first, but now colleagues or supervisors are noticing changes in your mood and mental acuity, increasing self-isolation, or an uptick in errors.
More than likely, you had a hunch before anyone else did that you might be struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction that is now impacting your patient care. Whether your issue is with stimulants, opiates, non-opiate depressants, strong cold medicines, alcohol, or another substance, it may be time to seek out help before a mistake at work has serious consequences, whether to a patient, your nursing license, or both.
Perhaps someone has already filed a report after being suspicious of your behavior, witnessing an act of drug diversion, or otherwise knowing about substance use disorder impacting your work because of obvious signs or something you've said. After all, nurses are required to report suspected violations as a condition of their license. If you are in this situation, you might feel afraid of what could happen to your reputation and your job. This is understandable. But you can recover from this. Seeking help could be the most difficult thing you ever do, but it may also be the healthiest. How you approach this warrants careful consideration, however.
If you are, or fear you may be, in trouble with the Wyoming State Board of Nursing (WSBN), reach out to the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. We are experienced in representing nurses nationwide before state nursing boards and negotiating with them on our client's behalf. To learn how we can help you seek the best possible outcome if you are facing possible license suspension or revocation or if you have been referred to the Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP) discussed below, contact the Lento Law Firm Team today at 888.535.3686 or contact us through our automated response form.
Addiction Struggles Don't Discriminate by Profession
You know that your position as a healthcare provider is an important one and that patients' lives are often in your hands. You entered this profession with a desire to help people heal and the confidence that you have the skills, aptitude, and compassion to do just that.
Negligence in other professions rarely involves the kinds of serious consequences that accompany the healthcare profession. When a nurse or physician commits an error, especially as a result of an untreated substance use disorder, it can be serious.
Everyone knows that doctors and nurses are fallible, yet it can be easy to discount or deny the possibility that one could have a problem with substance use that impacts their work. The stereotype of the typical “alcoholic” or “drug addict” isn't of a clean-cut person wearing scrubs and a stethoscope around their neck. The fact is that anyone can suffer from substance use disorder, regardless of age, gender, profession, socio-economic status, and so on.
While the general public might be slow to overcome this stereotype, the Wyoming State Board of Nursing is well aware that nurses can and do find themselves struggling with addiction, acknowledging that the work you do can be quite stressful and traumatizing. Working around people who are injured, ill, and dying, and quite possibly being unable to save them, can quickly lead someone to seek escape in substances.
Maybe it starts out slowly and quietly, with an after-work drink or two to take your mind off your shift. It can take months or years for a substance use disorder to fully form and begin to wreak havoc on your life. Many high-functioning professionals are skilled at concealing their struggles, but when mistakes start happening at work, nursing supervisors are trained to recognize signs of substance use disorder, and they are duty-bound to make notes and intervene.
Suffering from an addiction doesn't mean you are a bad person. It means you are human and need help. Recovering addicts will often tell you that “you can't do this alone” and that “the opposite of addiction is connection.” Treatment programs and peer support groups can be life-changing when fully taken advantage of. If you are being instructed to enroll in a program as an alternative to losing your nursing license, doing so can save your career.
That said, it isn't wise to legally consent to a program without getting to know everything that is involved, including the time commitment, cost, and consequences for even minuscule lapses in compliance. You don't want your professional outlook to worsen because you've committed to a program that you can't realistically fully adhere to.
Are You in Trouble with the Wyoming State Board of Nursing?
If you are facing discipline by the Wyoming State Board of Nursing, this means they may have reason to believe you have breached an ethical or professional standard on the job. Punitive measures could involve revoking your nursing license. Common complaints against nurses in such cases include:
- Practicing nursing while impaired because of substance abuse or dependency
- Practicing nursing while intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, substances, or chemicals
- Distributing, selling, or using illegal or controlled drugs without permission
- Diverting drugs or medications
Alternatives to Wyoming License Proceedings
Wyoming is among the many states that offer referrals to alternative-to-discipline programs in lieu of nursing license suspension or revocation. These are seen as alternative routes to correcting past mistakes. The Wyoming State Board of Nursing partners with the Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP), which provides third-party reports documenting nurses' recovery. If the WSBN refers you to WPAP, you can opt into substance use evaluation, treatment, and compliance monitoring as an alternative to disciplinary action. This involves having your abstinence from drug or alcohol use monitored through drug testing, compliance with treatment and recovery recommendations, and post-program, return-to-work measures.
If you are struggling, enrolling in a treatment program like WPAP may be a major step in a positive direction, helping you heal, stay clean, and keep your nursing license. But it can also have unintended consequences if you aren't fully aware of what you are agreeing to at the outset. The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help you fully prepare for any treatment program you are considering entering and help you protect your nursing license and future in the process.
WPAP: Consult an Attorney Before Signing Up
If the Wyoming Board of Nursing has referred you to WPAP, get as much information as possible and learn about all of the program's requirements before signing up. You'll want to become familiar with the program's comprehensive set of requirements you'll need to meet to avoid discipline.
There is a real sense of relief that can come with formally committing to a program, and substance use disorder can be successfully treated through these kinds of rehabilitation and monitoring programs. Accepting professional help is vital, but by speaking with an attorney before finalizing your commitment, you may be able to avoid surprises that could prove costly in the long run. For example, agreeing to a program like WPAP could be interpreted as an admission of guilt if you are under investigation. By enrolling, you may be admitting that you practiced nursing without the required skill, safety, or judgment because of an alcohol or chemical dependency.
Speaking with an attorney to discuss your options and seeking this particular treatment route only after knowing all of the program's requirements is prudent as you think about your future as a nurse. Don't wait to seek legal guidance. Contact the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or tell us about your case online.
Know What You Will Be Responsible For
Alternative treatment programs typically involve taking part in peer group support programs and attending a required number of 12-step program meetings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, Dual Recovery Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous), as well as regular toxicity screenings.
You will likely be responsible for the costs associated with the program, including the application fee, costs of evaluation, peer support group meetings, and drug testing. Make sure you have your finances in order before enrolling in a program like WPAP, so you don't default on your commitment and wind up with a more complex problem than you faced initially.
Compliance is Key in WPAP
When you enter a treatment program through a referral by a state nursing board like the Wyoming State Board of Nursing, understand that you agree in advance to complete all recommendations that your treatment team may make and that you cannot work as a nurse again until your program supervisors approve of your doing so. Understandably, you will not be permitted to use addictive substances, including alcohol, while you are enrolled. Finally, understand that you will be communicating honestly and openly with your employer during this time.
Releasing Your Health Information to Others
Not only do you need to communicate with your employer about your status in treatment, but you will also be asked to sign forms allowing WPAP to share your health records with others, including your primary care provider, your supervisor at work, and other state boards of nursing. This includes:
- Medical, alcohol, and drug history, including assessments or evaluations
- Information regarding attendance, lack of attendance, or participation in treatment sessions
- Your cooperation with the treatment program or continuing care program
- Your prognosis or progress in recovery
Understanding Your Commitment
Be sure you have the capacity to fulfill the program's obligations in terms of both time and money. The program's requirements are intended to help you stay accountable to yourself and others. If you are prepared to fulfill them, they can dramatically improve your odds of overcoming a substance use disorder. But don't forget that there isn't room for error. You are not able to pick and choose which portions of your treatment plan to participate in when you agree to a program like WPAP. Refusing to take part in any part of the plan, including recommendations by WPAP, could be seen as non-compliance, triggering a report to the Wyoming State Board of Nursing.
Submitting to Random Toxicology Screening
Knowing ahead of time what you can and can't consume while you are enrolled in WPAP is important. You must avoid more obvious substances like alcohol and illegal drugs, but a positive drug test could also be the result of consuming poppy seeds, CBD oil or hemp seeds, over-the-counter medications containing alcohol, Kombucha, food containing alcohol, and alcohol-based mouthwashes. If your drug test comes back positive, whether from sampling your urine, hair, blood, saliva, or nails, it may not matter why it's positive.
Restrictions at Work
If and when you are allowed to return to work, make sure you know what restrictions will be in place ahead of time. Finding out after the fact that you weren't permitted to work overtime or a night shift, or work for multiple employers, isn't going to be received positively.
It will likely be the case that you will be restricted from autonomous or unsupervised roles at work, or from working in critical care areas, around controlled substances, or on an on-call basis. Don't make the mistake of even applying for a nursing job without approval from the program to do so, which could be a violation of your contract.
Failure to comply can result in a report to the Wyoming State Board of Nursing. Be sure you can commit to regular attendance at peer meetings, routine drug screening, submitting reports, and avoiding non-approved medications and/or controlled substances at all times. You don't want to end up in a situation that is actually worse than it was before enrolling in WPAP.
Can You Get Your Nursing License Reinstated?
Before entering into any agreement, familiarize yourself with the timeline, as well. You should know going into it that this process can take several months before you are able to request the reinstatement of your nursing license.
If you have fulfilled all of your program's requirements, you may be able to apply for reinstatement, but this could take an additional several months. It's important to know the timeline you are agreeing to since being out of work as a nurse can bring with it myriad financial, personal, and family challenges.
I'm Afraid My Nursing License Is at Risk
If your license is at risk, or if it has already been suspended or revoked, it's important not to panic or jump into an alternative-to-discipline program without thoroughly exploring your options with a legal advisor. Doing so can take the guesswork out of the equation and best position you to move forward successfully.
Remember, you are not alone in your struggles. Healthcare professionals all over Wyoming, the country, and the world struggle with addiction issues, just as people in other professions today.
Treatment programs like WPAP can help many of them in need of intervention, and we hope, if this is the right choice for you, that it helps you, ideally with the guidance of an experienced legal team.
After an incident, you may understandably feel guilt or shame, and it isn't uncommon to feel mentally and emotionally paralyzed, wondering how to move forward. The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm will help you take the next steps to get your career and your life back on track.
Above all, we want you to recover and bounce back stronger than ever. Even if nothing has gone wrong yet, but you feel it may only be a matter of time, we encourage you to get help, starting with seeking out a strong legal team. If you feel that a colleague, supervisor, patient, or patient's family may know you have done something wrong and you are afraid of them reporting you, it's not too early to start thinking strategically.
Telltale signs of a problem, such as drug diversion, narcotic discrepancies, a pattern of correcting medical records, frequent reporting of patients' ineffective pain relief, or variations in controlled substance discrepancies depending on days of the week or shifts, probably won't go unnoticed forever.
Especially when coupled with symptoms such as forgetfulness, a short temper, or paying special attention to patients on pain medication, the signs of a substance use disorder on the job can be more obvious than you might think. A colleague who suspects or is aware of your misconduct and doesn't report it could also then be investigated for professional misconduct. This could look like diverting medication, or it could be related to an occurrence outside of work, such as being stopped and arrested for intoxicated driving on the way to work. Don't wait for a report to be filed against you before planning your defense in order to retain your nursing license.
How An Attorney Can Help You Keep Your Wyoming Nursing License
If you are feeling overwhelmed by an allegation filed against you and at the thought of losing your nursing license, this doesn't mean you need to commit immediately to a treatment program. Getting help is smart, but do so armed with all of the information available. Remember, you have legal options, and we can work through them with you.
In addition to helping you evaluate whether WPAP is right for you, we can help you navigate the path forward with the Wyoming State Board of Nursing. We can help you:
- Respond to investigation and interview requests for you
- Answer the New Jersey's Board of Nursing's notice of formal proceedings, ensuring you don't default
- Discover evidence provided to support any charges against you so we can support your position
- Communicate directly with disciplinary officials and judges while advocating for your procedural rights
- Negotiate for favorable resolution of disciplinary charges by consent agreement
- Prepare for your hearing, if it comes to this, including witness and exhibit preparation.
- Draft and submit hearing briefs
- Participate in your hearing, cross-examine witnesses, and challenge exhibits
- Help you interpret the judge's ruling and, if not in your favor, work to find grounds for appeal
- Pursue your appeal
- Communicate with your employer throughout the proceedings to protect your job pending the proceeding's outcome
Call the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team Today
We are firm in our belief in our client's due process rights and their knowledge of what treatment will work best for them, and we are ready to stand by you as a strong advocate and negotiator. We regularly work with state nursing boards and licensing agencies nationwide when professional licenses are at risk, and we want to be your defense.