Substance abuse disorders affect healthcare professionals, including nurses, just as much as they affect the wider population. However, nurses and other care providers face significantly more scrutiny – and potentially more serious penalties – than the average worker. This is unsurprising, given the responsibility that comes with providing medical care.
But what if you're falsely accused of having a substance abuse problem in Maine? Or what if you get a DUI when you're finished work, and suddenly, the hospital tells you that you're facing misconduct proceedings? There are many ways for substance abuse allegations to affect nurses professionally. And they can all potentially lead to license suspension or revocation.
An increasingly common way to handle substance abuse allegations is to refer nurses to specialized “Alternative to Discipline” programs, i.e., alcohol or drug counseling. However, you should not be tempted to simply accept an offer of drug or alcohol counseling as an alternative to losing your license. Our Professional License Defense Team explains why below. But in the meantime, should you require advice on a licensing matter, call us now at 888.535.3686 or leave a message online.
Maine State Board of Nursing
The Maine State Board of Nursing has the authority to investigate nurses and impose disciplinary sanctions. These sanctions include license suspension, revocation, or probation. Conduct allegations which may lead to investigations include:
- Alleged abuse of alcohol or drugs, which may impair a nurse's ability to provide safe care.
- Professional diagnosis of a health condition that could impact a nurse's ability to provide safe treatment, e.g., a substance abuse disorder.
- Unprofessional or incompetent conduct, e.g., negligent patient care or excessive tardiness.
Most nursing investigations begin with an initial complaint made by a colleague, patient, or member of the public. The Board should notify you, in writing, of the complaint and a possible investigation. You should have the opportunity to respond in writing to these allegations.
Upon receiving your response, the Board may choose to dismiss the complaint or undertake further investigations. Your written response and evidence to support your position could be critical here. The Lento Law Firm will endeavor to help you have the matter resolved promptly – contact us to discuss how we can assist.
Possible Outcomes of Maine Nursing Board Investigations
The Board may offer you a chance to have an informal meeting, or conference, to discuss the complaint in more detail. The conference helps the Board establish the facts before determining how to proceed. There's no guarantee you will be offered an informal meeting, though, especially for more serious allegations relating to substance abuse.
The next step is to explore either an informal settlement with the Board or to proceed to a formal adjudicative, or administrative, hearing.
- An informal settlement means signing a Consent Agreement. This means admitting to what happened in exchange for a “lesser” penalty, e.g., referral to a counseling program rather than immediate license revocation.
- An adjudicative hearing means denying the allegations and undergoing a formal legal hearing to determine the facts.
There's one crucial point to bear in mind here. Signing a Consent Agreement with the Board means you accept the allegations and admit to the misconduct. You're essentially agreeing that you have a substance abuse problem for which you require treatment. The Board may not frame it that way, but this is how it will be perceived. Agreeing to counseling or participation in a program should not be considered until you've had legal advice on the possible implications for your career going forward.
ME Medical Professionals Health Program
The Maine Medical Professionals Health Program (MPHP) accepts referrals from licensing boards for health providers with substance abuse disorders. If you're accepted at the referral stage, you will join the program and sign an MPHP Monitoring Agreement outlining your commitment to recovery.
Commitment and Requirements
Every MPHP Agreement is different, and it is not the same as your Consent Agreement with the Board. Instead, it sets out what's required for you to complete the MPHP program satisfactorily. Requirements typically include:
- Attendance at Board meetings.
- Complete abstinence from drugs or alcohol (unless you have a valid prescription for a controlled drug)
- Having someone monitor you at work if you're allowed to continue working while on the program.
- Participate in self-help activities, e.g., mindfulness, to show your dedication to sobriety.
After a certain period, you will “graduate” from this initial agreement to a Maintenance Agreement. You'll be expected to agree to randomized toxicology samples and attend regular supervisory meetings to monitor your progress.
It's important to consider that there's no official end date for a Maintenance Agreement. You could, theoretically, be subject to MPHP supervision for years. This is a significant commitment on your part, which should only be undertaken after guidance from a lawyer. Never consider drug counseling programs “easier” than fighting your case at an adjudicative hearing. Your license, and your reputation, are simply too precious to leave anything to chance. Our attorneys can evaluate the evidence against you, consider any possible substance issues you may wish to seek help for and determine if agreeing to an MPHP is appropriate.
Once you agree to an MPHP program, the decision is final. It's part of your binding Consent Agreement with the Board, and violations are considered a breach of contract.
- You will, typically, lose your rights to appeal disciplinary action as you have accepted the Board's verdict.
- You will also be subject to intense scrutiny and monitoring, and any relapses could be punished harshly.
Nursing boards are not known for their leniency. Do not make any decisions that have significant legal implications alone. Contact our Professional License Defense Team and protect your civil and legal rights.
The Long-Term Consequences of MPHP Placements for Nurses
Referral to the MPHP is considered an alternative to formal disciplinary action. It is, supposedly, an opportunity for nurses to demonstrate their commitment to recovery, sobriety, and safe nursing practice. However, this does not mean that MPHP enrolment is not without consequences.
- Alternative to Discipline programs can still impact your permanent professional record. This may affect your ability to secure promotions and progress your career.
- It's mentally and psychologically challenging to attend programs such as MPHP. You may feel unsupported and even stigmatized, and these feelings can persist long after the program expires.
- Continuous, long-term monitoring is draining. And any slip-up, no matter how small or accidental, could result in further – severe – disciplinary action.
Our Professional License Defense Team will walk you through the possible consequences so you fully understand what you're committing to.
Can the Board Force Me to Join the Medical Professionals Health Program?
No. The Board cannot force you to opt for an MPHP placement. At least, they cannot order you to undertake the program unless it's part of a Consent Agreement with them. However, you may feel pressured into accepting a referral rather than the alternatives, which could include a formal administrative hearing with possible license revocation or at least a license suspension. In this sense, you may feel as though you've been “forced” to accept a referral rather than lose your license.
It is important that the Board upholds due process in all its dealings with you throughout the disciplinary proceedings. Our lawyers will ensure this happens – you should never feel bullied into accepting an MPHP placement unless you are content that it is your best option in the circumstances.
Can I “Fail” the Medical Professionals Health Program?
Noncompliance with your MPHP Agreement, even if it's an accidental violation, could be grounds for terminating your place on the program. Attempts could be made to resolve matters informally with the MPHP, especially for minor violations or oversights. However, there's no guarantee this will happen, especially if the incident involves a relapse or an incident with drugs or alcohol. You may be referred to the Maine State Board of Nursing and, in all likelihood, face further disciplinary action.
If you're at all concerned about your ability to comply with your MPHP Agreement, you should discuss your concerns with your point(s) of contact within the program. Our lawyers can help you determine the best way to proceed to avoid, where possible, further disciplinary action.
What Are My Options if I Reject an MPHP Referral?
As alluded to, you may feel as though you must accept a referral offer. However, it's important to remember that you do have options. While your options will vary depending on the specifics of the allegations against you, the most common way to proceed is to reject the referral and request an adjudicative hearing – a more formal court procedure – instead.
Adjudicative Hearing Process
You have the right to request a hearing for any matter threatening your nursing license. This, of course, will include substance abuse allegations. You have the right to present evidence supporting your case and the right to instruct legal counsel. Should you retain us, we will handle any legal procedural steps on your behalf.
The decision should be issued in writing and explain, in satisfactory detail, the reasons for any action to be taken. Should the Board choose to revoke or suspend your license, sufficient reasons must be provided.
Can I Appeal Administrative Hearing Verdicts?
It's possible to challenge Board decisions and decisions made at the formal hearing. However, it's not easy to do so. First, you must have grounds to challenge a decision. It's not enough to simply be unhappy with the outcome. According to the Maine Administrative Procedure Act, you must be able to show, for example, that:
- There's insufficient evidence to support the decision.
- The agency did not apply the law correctly.
- The decision goes beyond the agency's statutory authority.
- It is a biased or arbitrary decision.
- The agency violated your constitutional or statutory rights.
The court, upon hearing the appeal, may reverse the decision, seek further evidence, or confirm the initial decision. Given the complexities involved, though, appeals are best avoided. It is always preferable to secure a favorable or satisfactory outcome in the first instance.
How Do I Challenge False Substance Abuse Accusations?
It's highly distressing when the Board investigates you for alleged substance abuse. However, it's even more alarming when the allegations are entirely false, and there are no substance dependency issues in play. Especially when nursing boards routinely sanction nurses without significant evidence to support the accusations.
If you're dealing with false or exaggerated substance abuse accusations, it's arguably even more important to get timely legal advice. It's imperative that you gather as much evidence as possible to prove your position before the allegations can impact your nursing career. And you need an attorney on your side who will protect your best interests as you challenge these false accusations.
Our Professional License Defense Team understands the difficulties you face and how alarming false substance abuse accusations can be. If you retain us, we will act swiftly to protect your position and help you mitigate any damage to your professional reputation.
Substance Abuse Accusations and Related Charges
It's not at all uncommon for nurses with alleged substance dependency issues to face multiple accusations simultaneously. For example, you may face accusations of being hungover on duty while also facing charges for an alleged DUI. If you're in this position, you might be concerned about whether accepting an MPHP referral could be considered “admitting guilt” for not just work-related misconduct but also related charges.
The reality is that misconduct allegations of any nature can spiral. The consequences can affect every area of your life, from the professional to personal spheres. The Board will not explain any of this to you. That's why it's crucial to understand your legal rights and options in full before making any decisions. Don't get caught out by unforeseen consequences. Contact our attorneys for a comprehensive evaluation of your situation.
Reinstatement of Suspended and Revoked Nursing Licenses
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to defend your position, you may face the reality of a suspended or revoked nursing license in Maine. Should this be the case, there are differences in how you may seek a license reinstatement, depending on whether it's a suspended or revoked license.
If your nursing license is suspended, you can usually seek reinstatement at the end of the mandatory suspension period, e.g., one year. There's no guarantee that your license will be reinstated, however. This is simply when you become eligible to seek reinstatement. Typically, you'll be expected to have fully complied with any MPHP requirements and other obligations imposed by the board, e.g., continued education and drug or alcohol testing. Reprimands for breaking your MPHP Agreement, for example, could be problematic for seeking reinstatement.
Nursing license revocation is the most significant penalty the Board can impose. Should you lose your license, it is possible to seek reinstatement. However, it's not a simple process, and it is more challenging to have a revoked license reinstated than a suspended one. Revocation is intended to be long-term; suspension, on the other hand, can be temporary. In any case, you will likely only have one shot at seeking reinstatement – contact the Lento Law Firm for assistance before petitioning the Board.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid the difficulty in seeking license reinstatement is to preserve your license. However, this is not always possible. If you're seeking license reinstatement after already losing your nursing license, we still want to help. The Lento Law Firm will explain what options remain and which steps you might take to seek a license reinstatement after substance abuse allegations.
Do I Need a Professional License Defense Attorney in Maine?
You may be tempted to agree to a program referral without seeking legal advice. After all, MPHP referrals can seem innocuous. However, first, it's vital that you consider exploring every legal option with help from an experienced attorney.
- State nursing boards handle licensing matters every single day. They understand every nuance of the disciplinary process. You're at a significant disadvantage if you do not have a representative on your side who has a similarly in-depth knowledge of the laws involved.
- The Board will have its own attorneys providing legal advice. You deserve to have your own legal representation to avoid being treated unfairly and to avoid making procedural errors that could affect your case.
- There are various short and long-term implications associated with any course of action you might take. An attorney will ensure you understand the consequences of agreeing to a program or proceeding to a court hearing.
- Your license is, ultimately, too precious to defend half-heartedly. You deserve to know you are doing everything possible to get the support you need and protect the professional career you've worked so hard to build.
State boards across the US routinely refer nurses to drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. However, it's not always in a nurse's best interests to agree to such a placement. Only after consulting experienced attorneys can you make a fully informed decision regarding your future. Our Professional License Defense Team is only a phone call away – contact us now to learn more.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help Nurses Facing Substance Abuse Accusations
If you have never hired an attorney before, you may be unsure what you can expect from our lawyers. You may feel daunted – and a little overwhelmed – at the thought of making that first contact. So, to assist, here are some of the ways the Lento Law Firm Team will support you.
- We will listen carefully to your side of the story. The more information we have, the more effectively we can support you.
- After reviewing the evidence, we will explain your legal options. Our lawyers will help you understand the pros and cons of accepting an MPHP program referral or proceeding to a court hearing.
- Our lawyers will handle procedural steps for you. We will also liaise with the Board, where possible, to negotiate a fair and reasonable outcome.
- With our knowledge of professional licensing rules and disciplinary procedures, we will vigorously hold the Board accountable for upholding due process. We will not allow your rights to be compromised or for the Board to ignore fundamental procedural steps.
- We will answer any questions you have and provide as much reassurance as we can along the way. Where relevant, we'll also explain the risks involved, e.g., the possibility that you may not be successful at a court hearing.
Our lawyers truly care about what happened – every client has our full and undivided attention when we work on their case. And we understand that every nurse, no matter what allegations they might face, should have the chance to explain themselves. If you have substance dependency issues, you deserve compassion. Not disproportionate – and potentially career-ruining – sanctions. It's our privilege to help ensure you are treated with the respect you deserve.
Defending Nurses Across Maine
Nurses across ME know they can trust us to represent their best interests throughout any disciplinary process, including actions for alleged substance abuse. We assist healthcare professionals in every major Maine hospital, including:
- Acadia Hospital
- Charles A. Dean Memorial Hospital
- Eastern Maine Medical Center
- Franklin Memorial Hospital
- Maine Medical Center
- Northern Light Mercy Hospital
The Lento Law Firm has extensive experience representing dedicated, committed professionals across the country. No matter which medical facility you work in or which area of nursing you specialize in, do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team
Your nursing license matters. You have invested a significant amount of time, money, and resources into building your career. And at the Lento Law Firm, we believe that you deserve the chance to defend everything you have worked for. Whether you're facing false accusations or you have a substance dependency, you require help, and we want to support you. Our Professional License Defense Team is committed to negotiating the most favorable possible outcome in your case.
From liaising with Board officials to representing you at formal hearings, we will stand with you and help you through this incredibly challenging time. Our attorneys will help you understand your legal options, and we will ensure that the Board treats you fairly throughout the process. With our lawyers on your side, you can feel confident that you are making the best decisions for your professional future.
Do not attempt to handle disciplinary action, license proceedings, or MPHP referrals alone. Instead, contact the Lento Law Firm for a case evaluation. Simply call 888.535.3686 or leave us a message online, and we will promptly respond.