Substance abuse is a huge problem across the US. And for those individuals struggling with alcohol and/or drug dependency issues, the challenges can be numerous, especially if you have a responsible or professional career. If you are a licensed professional in Utah, such as a qualified nurse, you know that any accusations relating to substance abuse could put your license in jeopardy. After all, you're working with vulnerable members of the public – and state licensing boards take any accusations of substance abuse seriously.
As part of their investigations into the complaint, the Board may offer you the chance to join a substance abuse program rather than take further action against your license. However, before you consider taking such an offer, you must understand the full implications of what's involved in substance abuse counseling – and the potential long-term impact on your career.
At the Lento Law Firm, we routinely defend nurses facing professional disciplinary action for misconduct and matters relating to substance dependency. We know how hard you've worked to secure a promising career in nursing, and we will do everything we can to help you protect your nursing license. Reach us at 888.535.3686 or complete our online form to discuss your professional licensure matter.
State Board for Nursing Licensure in Utah
The Utah State Board of Nursing has jurisdiction over all nurses working in medical facilities across the state. The Board is a branch of Utah's Division of Professional Licensing (DOPL). It has the authority to grant, renew, amend, suspend, and revoke nursing licenses, and it's responsible for investigating misconduct allegations and complaints.
The Board applies the rules and regulations set out in various federal and state-level laws, including:
- DOPL Licensing Act
- Nurse Practice Act
- General Rule of the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
These rules govern, for example, how the Board might investigate you for alleged substance abuse or dependency and the action they can take against you. It's crucial that the Utah Board of Nursing does, in fact, uphold these rules and follow its own directives. Our lawyers will ensure that the Board affords you due process and treats you fairly.
State Board Authority to Investigate Substance Abuse Allegations
Among the Board's powers is the authority to investigate accusations of substance abuse or dependency. These accusations may stem from an incident at work, such as appearing hungover or allegedly stealing prescription medication. Or, they can occur due to something that happens outside of work that the Board discovers, e.g., receiving a DUI or a citation for drug possession.
The Board has the authority to investigate “unlawful and unprofessional conduct” as defined by the DOPL Licensing Act. “Unprofessional conduct” includes engaging in drug or alcohol abuse to the extent that it could reasonably be expected to impair your ability to safely engage in nursing. This is not to mean that you are prohibited from, say, drinking alcohol socially. It simply means that your conduct may be investigated by the Board if there's a risk that it could endanger others.
The Investigation Process
The DOPL's Bureau of Investigation assesses all complaints made by the public, coworkers, and other interested parties. If there are grounds to investigate further, the Bureau will gather evidence, interview witnesses, and determine how to proceed.
You will be notified of investigations against you. The moment you receive notice of disciplinary investigations involving substance abuse allegations, you should contact our Professional License Defense Team for advice.
Disciplinary Options for Nurses Accused of Substance Abuse in Utah
Some allegations may be resolved informally by, for example, verbal or written warning. However, in most cases involving substance dependency, there will be a more formal investigation and resolution of the matter.
Typically, the Board will first offer what's known as a stipulated agreement. This means accepting the allegations made against you and agreeing to certain Board-specified conditions, for example, being placed on probation and entering a recovery program or even voluntarily surrendering your license.
If you do not wish to accept the allegations and admit to wrongdoing, or the Board's stipulated proposals are unacceptable, you can proceed to an administrative hearing. These hearings are formal court proceedings that take place before administrative law judges.
In Utah, if you're placed on probation, this means that your nursing license is restricted in some way until you satisfy certain criteria. For substance abuse issues, this often means submitting to mandatory drug/alcohol testing, or successfully completing Utah's Recovery Assistance Program.
The Utah Recovery Assistance Program
The Utah Recovery Assistance Program, or “Utah Professionals Health Program” (UPHP), is a recognized alternative to more formal disciplinary action. It may be offered to nurses with suspected or diagnosed substance abuse orders.
The Board can refer nurses to the UPHP for clinical evaluation. There is a clear pathway for referral:
- The UPHP receives a referral and evaluates the nurse to determine their fitness to practice.
- Should the UPHP deem that the nurse will benefit from the program, they will propose a personalized treatment plan.
- The nurse signs a terms and conditions agreement with the UPHP, agreeing to follow the treatment plan and participate fully in the program.
During the program, you will likely be expected to:
- Take responsibility for your own wellness and recovery.
- Participate in continued education to ensure your nursing knowledge remains current.
- Undergo drug/alcohol testing.
- Attend regular reviews and meetings.
- Undertake any other specific treatment therapies assigned to you.
Accepting that you need help with substance abuse issues is not easy. And for many nurses, formal treatment could be the best step forward. But an attorney should be consulted before you agree to any action – such as a UPHP referral – which may have a long-term impact on your career.
Can I Practice While Enrolled with the UPHP?
It all depends on the outcome of your clinical evaluation.
A multidisciplinary team with substance dependency experience evaluates:
- Whether you have a substance abuse disorder.
- How much support you require.
- Your fitness to practice nursing safely right now.
- The criteria for deeming your treatment “complete”.
The team may agree that you can hold a probationary license and work on a restricted basis, e.g., under supervision, only during restricted hours, only performing certain tasks, etc. Or they may agree that you can't currently work safely. This will mean you can't work as a nurse until you are discharged from the program.
There's also the possibility that you won't be accepted into the program. For example, accusations of medical malpractice, gross misconduct, and felony criminal charges may bar you from the UPHP. Being unable to enter the program could limit your options for retaining your license.
Terms and Conditions
The terms and conditions you sign with the UPHP are separate from your stipulated agreement.
- The stipulated agreement with the Board means accepting and admitting that you have, potentially, a substance abuse disorder. This also means accepting the accusations. This admission of “guilt” could permanently blot your disciplinary record and affect your career prospects going forward.
- Your terms and conditions are an agreement with the UPHP. If you do not comply with the terms, you may not complete the program. A consequence could be fines, further license restrictions, license suspension, or revocation.
If you comply with the terms and conditions for the pre-agreed treatment duration, you can be discharged from the program. Successful completion of the UPHP may entitle you to reapply for a full nursing license.
The Consequences of UPHP for Nurses
Before agreeing on a placement on the UPHP, consider the following.
- Most nurses must submit to at least five-year monitoring. This means that any slip-up in a five-year period, no matter how minor, could result in losing your license. If you're under a “one strike” rule, you could lose everything you've worked for.
- Terms and conditions agreements can be complex. There may be hidden stipulations or vague and unclear terms. Unless you seek legal advice, you may not be fully aware of what you're agreeing to.
- UPHP participation will affect your nursing disciplinary record. This could impact your employment prospects in the long term.
- Complying with a UPHP referral often means relinquishing the right to appeal disciplinary action. You may also lose other procedural rights, depending on the case.
As we can see, there are various consequences of agreeing to substance abuse treatment. Not all of them are obvious. Consult our Professional License Defense Team before agreeing to either a Board stipulated agreement or a UPHP referral.
Can the Board Force Me to Undergo Drug or Alcohol Counseling?
The Board can't force you to complete the Utah Recovery Assistance Program. However, if non-attendance means you have violated your probation, they could suspend or revoke your license or take further action against you. And they could propose license suspension or revocation as an alternative if you do not consent to drug or alcohol counseling. So, in this sense, you may feel pressured into accepting a program placement.
Remember, though, that you always have options. Our team will ensure you understand what those options are before signing any stipulated agreement or consenting to treatment programs.
What Are the Consequences of Proceeding to a Formal Court Hearing?
Should you reject the offer of a stipulated agreement and choose to go to court, the allegations could be dismissed. The claim against you may be dropped if the Board can't prove its case. However, there's always the risk that the Board will succeed in proving its case, and you could face more severe penalties, such as license revocation.
Every professional license defense matter is completely unique. And no case is guaranteed to be successful. It's imperative that you receive legal advice so you can make an informed decision on how to best protect your license and professional reputation.
What if the Allegations Are False?
False accusations are especially terrifying and stressful – they can ruin anyone's career. If you do not have drug or alcohol dependency issues, then it's even more important to get legal advice immediately. Our team will help you gather sufficient evidence to counter the accusations so you stand the best chance of defeating them.
Can the Board Revoke My License if I Have a Diagnosed Substance Abuse Disorder?
Under the ADA, you may be protected from losing your nursing position if you have a substance addiction. This caveat protects those with diagnosed substance abuse issues who have been successfully rehabilitated. However, you are not protected if:
- You are actively using drugs illegally; or
- You are abusing alcohol.
Even if you accept a place on the Utah Recovery Assistance Program, the Board may still argue that you are a current drug or alcohol user despite being enrolled in a rehab program. This could mean you are not protected and still at risk, ultimately, of license revocation or suspension.
We should note that the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for alcoholics and those with substance dependency issues. However, this does not extend to misconduct, e.g., a nurse can't commit an act of misconduct and blame it on alcoholism. Although the Board may accept that substance dependency contributed to the misconduct, they're not obliged to accept this as a suitable explanation to excuse the behavior.
How Do I Appeal a Substance Abuse Finding Against Me?
You can appeal any decision you believe is manifestly unfair or based on procedural anomalies, e.g., failure of the Board to provide sufficient evidence to take action against you. Appeals can be challenging, but our attorneys are happy to discuss your options and explain how you might challenge the Board's position.
It should be noted that there are occasions when you may not challenge license revocation. For example, if you sign any agreement admitting to wrongdoing, then this may prohibit your right to appeal license revocation. And as accepting a recovery program placement could be considered an admission of wrongdoing, it could limit your ability to appeal the findings.
If you wish to learn more about your rights to appeal a state Board finding against you, call the Lento Law Firm.
Will a Substance Abuse Allegation Lead to Other Misconduct Investigations?
This is, unfortunately, impossible to surmise. However, it's not uncommon for nurses under investigation for any type of misconduct to face more than one accusation. For example, a substance abuse allegation may invite related accusations for unexplained absences, poor timekeeping, being hungover on the job, or errors in patient care.
Can Substance Abuse Allegations Lead to Criminal Charges?
It's possible. It all depends on the nature of the allegations. The most obvious example is a nurse facing criminal charges for a DUI, which then leads to the Board proposing disciplinary action, such as mandatory rehabilitation or license suspension/revocation. However, there are other types of criminal charges that may stem from substance abuse issues, such as allegedly assaulting patients or stealing medication.
The takeaway point here is that a single accusation can spiral. It can lead to a variety of potentially serious allegations – with severe consequences for your nursing license. Retaining our attorneys at the earliest opportunity will allow us to step in and ensure that all due processes are followed. We will help you answer accusations promptly and effectively, with the goal of having the complaint dismissed or at least mitigating the outcome.
Can I Get My Suspended License Reinstated?
Typically, if your license is suspended, you may petition the Board for reinstatement after the relevant period expires; e.g., if your license is suspended for six months, you can usually apply for reinstatement after this period.
Before the Board will reinstate your license, they may wish to see proof of compliance with any restrictions imposed or any conditions of reappointment, e.g., taking certain courses to refresh your medical knowledge. If there are substance abuse concerns, you may be required to show evidence of steps taken to address these concerns, e.g., medical evaluations.
Our Professional License Defense Team can assist if you're seeking license reinstatement following suspension.
Will the Board Reinstate a Revoked Nursing License in Utah?
License revocation is intended to be a permanent consequence. Therefore, it's not impossible to challenge license revocation, but it is a complicated process. It is more complex than seeking a suspended license reinstatement.
You may need to wait a certain length of time before you can apply for reinstatement, and the process can be lengthy. You will also typically need to meet certain reinstatement criteria, e.g., proof of continuing education. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that your license will be reinstated. That's why it's always preferable to do everything possible to avoid license revocation.
The threat of revocation is, of course, a reason why many nurses may be tempted to accept an offer of a substance abuse recovery program instead. However, given the legal consequences involved, no matter which option you choose, we will gladly assist you in making the right choice for your personal circumstances.
Do I Need a Professional License Defense Attorney?
You may think that it's best to simply accept the offer of the program placement. The Board may lead you to believe that this is the “path of least resistance,” so to speak. However, we do not recommend that you accept any disciplinary sanction without seeking legal advice, or that you attempt to defend the accusations alone. Here's why.
- Disciplinary proceedings for professional license matters are inherently complex. Without a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations, you are at an immediate disadvantage.
- The Board will have its own attorneys on its side. If you do not have your own experienced attorney to represent you, then you may not present the most compelling possible case in your favor.
- The Board will not hesitate to take further action against you, including suspending or even revoking your nursing license. To ensure that the Board only ever acts within its authority, and to stand the best chance of mitigating disciplinary action, you require legal representation.
- As explained, undergoing recovery treatment for alleged substance abuse can be perceived as admitting guilt. This could have long-term implications for your career. You should not undergo a placement without exploring every legal option first.
There's simply too much at stake to leave anything to chance when it comes to your professional license. It's all too easy for matters to escalate to a point where there's permanent damage to your professional prospects. Do not risk your career, your reputation, and your financial stability – call the Lento Law Firm and get the advice and representation you deserve.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
As a nationwide law firm, the Lento Law Firm champions nurses in every corner of the United States. We don't just negotiate on your behalf or complete paperwork for you. We stand by your side. Our Professional License Defense Team truly cares about the outcome of your case – and we'll walk alongside you every step of the way.
If you retain our Professional License Defense Team, here is what you can expect from us.
- A full evaluation of your case from experienced professional license attorneys.
- Complete overview of the available evidence and the Board's proposals, including their grounds for offering a recovery assistance placement.
- A comprehensive explanation of your legal rights and options based on the evidence available.
- Support, guidance, and advice throughout the process so you feel fully empowered and confident in your defense strategy.
- Effective representation at any Board disciplinary hearings or meetings and assistance with any preliminary negotiations.
- Advice on whether to accept the recovery assistance placement or whether to pursue alternative action.
However you choose to proceed with your case, we will ensure that you have the right information to make an informed choice. You can feel confident that you are doing everything possible to protect your license – and your livelihood – despite substance abuse issues.
Representing Nurses in Utah Against License Restrictions
No matter where you work in Utah, our attorneys can represent you. We support nurses working in any medical center or facility, including:
- University of Utah Hospital
- Intermountain Medical Center
- St George Regional Hospital
- Beaver Valley Hospital
- Lakeview Hospital
- St Mark's Hospital
- Ogden Regional Medical Center
Whichever area of medicine you work in, the Lento Law Firm Team can support you through disciplinary proceedings for substance abuse allegations.
Retain Our Professional License Defense Team Now | Lento Law Firm
Are you facing professional disciplinary action due to substance abuse allegations? The Lento Law Firm can help. We know that you've invested too much of yourself into your nursing career to let one accusation destroy it all. And as experienced professional license defense attorneys, we're here to help you protect what you've worked so hard for.
If you're offered a place on UPHP, do not accept this offer without seeking legal advice. Our Professional License Defense Team is standing by, waiting to explain your options and protect your legal rights. We will ensure you understand the consequences – both positive and negative – of accepting a place on UPHP, and we will support you in all negotiations with the state Board.
Do not feel pressured into handling disciplinary action alone. Let us stand by your side and help you secure the most favorable possible outcome. Contact us now at 888.535.3686 or leave us a message through our contact form.