Rhode Island Agency Nurse Disciplinary Issues

Working for a nurse staffing agency in Rhode Island may provide you with the flexibility to select where and when you want to work, as well as the ability to experience a variety of work environments. In some cases, working as an agency nurse can lead to a permanent position with the healthcare organization you've been assigned to. No matter what your reasons are for working as a nurse through a nurse staffing agency, you know how important your nursing license is to your ability to accept work and make a living.

Because your nursing license is the key to your career, if you receive a notice that someone has filed a misconduct complaint against you with the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), you need to take it seriously. Retaining an experienced attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can make all the difference in how your misconduct case turns out. Our experienced professional license defense attorneys understand the disciplinary standards and procedures that apply to nurse disciplinary proceedings in Rhode Island and can help you protect your rights and defend your license. Call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can help.

Agency Nurses in Rhode Island

Nurse staffing agencies in Rhode Island meet an important need in the state's health care system. They provide nurses for a wide range of healthcare settings: hospitals, clinics, home care, nursing homes, and private companies that need on-site nursing staff. Sometimes, their nurses will work for extended periods of time – months or even years – at a single location, and in other cases, the assignment is to help the care facility meet short-term staffing needs. Some of these assignments might be “travel nurse” positions, where the nurse will work for a specific contract period at a facility some distance from their home.

Nurses who work through nurse staffing agencies can find it more difficult to stay employed when disciplinary charges have been filed against them. A temporary employer is generally less likely to support a nurse being investigated for misconduct and may refuse to accept a nurse who has faced even relatively minor discipline from the DOH. In situations where a nurse is participating in the DOH's “nondisciplinary alternative” program for drug or alcohol dependency, working as an agency nurse can be almost impossible, even when work restrictions are lifted because of the worksite monitoring that the DOH will frequently require.

The Rhode Island Department of Health

The Rhode Island Department of Health is responsible for both licensing and disciplining nurses in the state. It issues licenses to those who pass an examination, and to those who are already registered in states that are part of the Nurse License Compact, which Rhode Island rejoined in 2024. Nurses must periodically renew their licenses; in order to do so, they must take at least ten continuing education hours every two years, two of which must relate to substance abuse. Nurses are required to attest that they have completed the minimum mandatory continuing education requirement each time they renew their license.

Nurses employed through nurse staffing agencies or as travel nurses have no separate licensing or registration requirements in Rhode Island.

Misconduct Registry in Rhode Island for Nurses

The DOH maintains a Disciplinary Actions and Orders website that allows anyone with access to the Internet to enter the name of a licensed nurse and learn whether and how the nurse has ever been disciplined by the DOH. Users can also search for disciplinary actions by date range without needing to know the name of the nurse who was disciplined by the DOH. The DOH also regularly publishes a list of licensed health professionals, including nurses, who have been disciplined by the DOH within the past 60 days. These lists also indicate when a licensed nurse or other health care professional has had their license reinstated after a suspension or other disciplinary action.

Because the DOH's disciplinary search website is available to the public, employers and nurse staffing agencies are, of course, free to use it to determine whether a nurse who is applying to work for them or who is employed by them has ever been disciplined. Disciplinary information on the DOH's website goes back more than ten years, and even in situations where a nurse's license was reinstated, the original discipline, as well as the reinstatement, remains available to the public.

Certification as an Agency Nurse in Rhode Island

Because Rhode Island doesn't have a separate process for licensing or certifying a nurse who is employed through a nurse staffing agency, all nurses who work through an agency must satisfy Rhode Island's requirements for one or another of the licenses that the DOH issues. These include the following types:

  • Registered Nurse
  • Licensed Practical Nurse
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) can be licensed as Certified Nurse Practitioners or Clinical Nurse Specialists in a number of different fields. The DOH may also grant APRNs the right to prescribe medication.

There are two main ways for nurses, including agency nurses, to be licensed to practice in Rhode Island. One is by passing the NCLEX examination; this is generally for a nurse who has graduated from an approved nursing program and who has not been licensed in another state. The other is by “endorsement” – this applies when the nurse has already passed the NCLEX and is licensed in one or more of the many states that are part of the nationwide Nurse License Compact.

All nurses applying for a new license in Rhode Island, whether it's their first license or whether they're applying based on an “endorsement” of their license from another state, must complete a nationwide background check that includes a fingerprint search.

When Rhode Island issues a license to a nurse, the nurse can work at any job for which their license meets (or exceeds) the job requirements. This applies whether the job they take is a full-time position directly with an employer, or a position that may be short-term that is secured through a nurse staffing agency.

Rhode Island Department of Health Nursing Disciplinary Investigations

Complaints against nurses can be filed by anyone through the DOH's website. The DOH notes that it does not investigate certain types of complaints, such as billing disputes or “issues related to personality conflicts or poor customer service.” Assuming the complaint is one that the DOH will investigate, the DOH will assign the complaint to at least two members of the Board of Nurse Registration and Nursing Education (BNR), who will be responsible for investigating the complaint.

The investigators send a copy of the complaint to the nurse and may be asked to respond to it. The nurse named in the complaint will normally also be notified of the name of the person who filed it unless the person asks that their identity be withheld. The DOH encourages people who file complaints to allow their names to be used so that the investigators can seek patient records and other evidence that may include the identity of the person filing the complaint.

The investigation process can take months. The Department of Nursing investigators may interview both the person who filed the complaint and the nurse named in the complaint, as well as co-workers and others who might have information helpful to the investigation. Health care and other records that are relevant to the investigation typically need to be subpoenaed before they can be reviewed by investigators, which can extend the investigation process.

Once the investigation process is complete, the BNR may choose to bring charges against the nurse, or it may close the investigation. Alternatively, in some cases, the BNR may issue a “letter of concern” to the nurse, which is not considered discipline and will not be made public.

If the nursing board decides to file disciplinary charges against the nurse, it will notify the nurse of the charges it is bringing, and will set a hearing date. The disciplinary process that follows is discussed in more detail below.

It can be very helpful to retain an experienced professional license defense attorney even during the investigation stage. You are likely to be interviewed by an investigator, and during that interview, you have a right to make sure you only respond to clear, fair questions that you understand. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can make sure that any ambiguous or unfair questions asked by the BNR investigator are clarified or rephrased in a fair manner before you answer them. In addition, in cases where your answer may not be entirely clear, your attorney can help you make sure you have the chance to clarify it before your interview ends. If you're asked for written responses, we can help you draft them so that you can only submit clear and accurate responses to questions that are fair and respect your rights.

Rhode Island Nurse Disciplinary Standards

Rhode Island expects licensed nurses to meet several general standards that are included in the state's legal definition of “Nursing.” Nurses should:

  • Provide essential services to promote, maintain, and restore their patients' health
  • Care for individuals during “periods of wellness, illness, and injury
  • Incorporate the healthcare plan prescribed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional
  • Use “specialized knowledge, judgment, and nursing skills” in their jobs

The DOH can discipline nurses for a number of types of misconduct. These include:

  • Making fraudulent or false statements on a nursing license application
  • Being found or pleading guilty to a “crime of gross immorality”
  • Practicing in a negligent matter
  • Habitually working while under the influence of alcohol or “habit-forming drugs”
  • Abandoning a patient under the nurse's care
  • Filing false reports, falsely completing patient records
  • Failing to file patient and other nursing records required by law
  • Disregarding standards of nursing practice
  • Being mentally incompetent
  • Not providing details of a patient's care needs to the nurse taking over the patient's care

Defending Yourself Against Rhode Island BNR Nurse Disciplinary Investigations

You have a right to defend yourself when you're being investigated by the BNR investigator as a result of a misconduct complaint that was filed against you in Rhode Island. Finding yourself the target of an investigation, one that could take months to complete, can be an extremely difficult process. Even if you're only interviewed once by the investigator, that interview – which may focus on a specific incident that took place months before – may be one of the most stressful experiences you've ever been through. Most people are not used to being asked detailed questions about their own conduct, and it can be enormously helpful to work with an experienced attorney who can both help you prepare for the interview and be with you during it to make sure you only answer fair, clear questions.

When your professional license and your ability to work as a nurse through a nurse staffing agency are on the line, it's in your interests to have the help of one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team throughout the investigation process. It helps nobody if you answer unclear or unfair questions that result in the investigator reaching the wrong conclusions about critical aspects of your disciplinary case.

Valuing Your Rhode Island Nursing License

It is in your long-term interest to keep your professional nursing record in Rhode Island as clean as possible. The DOH will keep information about any public discipline in its public database for years afterward, and any blemish – even a relatively minor one – can make it more difficult for you to work. This can be even more of a problem when the discipline requires that your employer provide periodic reports to the DOH about your conduct.

Even if you avoid discipline by taking advantage of Rhode Island's “Nondisciplinary alternative” program for nurses with substance abuse issues, the conditions that come with enrolling in the program may make it hard, if not impossible, for you to work as an agency nurse. In addition to initial practice restrictions that apply to alternative programs, in many cases, when the nurse is allowed to return to work, it is only on the condition that a specific person at their employment agrees to supervise and report on their progress. Unsupervised work that may be staffed by a nurse staffing agency, such as home care, may be prohibited entirely.

Your nursing license is the key to your livelihood. When your license and your livelihood are threatened by a misconduct complaint, it's time to contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team for help. Our experienced attorneys will help you understand the claims that are being made against you, will help and advise you throughout the difficult and lengthy investigation process, and can protect and defend you if the DOH decides to move forward with disciplinary charges against you. It will be much easier for you to face all of this with one of our experienced professional license defense attorneys by your than to try to navigate through these unfamiliar processes by yourself.

Telling Your Side of the Story to Rhode Island BNR Investigators

It's not unusual for the first reaction someone has when they hear that a misconduct complaint has been filed against them to be something like, “This is all just a big mistake.” They think that if they can only just discuss it with the investigator, they'll be able to “set the record straight,” and the whole thing will go away. It's our experience, unfortunately, that this tactic rarely works. Sometimes, it even backfires.

Investigators have a job to do, a legal duty to the public and to the DOH to meet, and are very unlikely to end an investigation based on a phone conversation with the person who is the target of a misconduct claim. On top of this, there is always the danger that the investigator will misunderstand what you're saying and use what you say against you.

There is usually a right time to tell your side of the story. In most cases, you're best off doing so once you're working with an experienced professional license defense attorney who can help make sure that any information you want to provide (a) will actually help your case and (b) is clearly expressed to the investigator so that it's not misunderstood. This is where working with the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help.

Allegations That Can Put Your Nursing License and Ability to Work as an Agency Nurse at Risk

We have already listed the general types of misconduct that can result in a nurse being disciplined in Rhode Island. Specific examples of misconduct cited against nurses include:

  • Abuse of a patient, either physically or mentally
  • Fraud committed against an employer, for example, by falsely recording working hours or stealing supplies
  • Sexually abusing a patient or entering into a consensual sexual relationship with a patient
  • Abandoning a patient the nurse was assigned to care for
  • Taking advantage of the nurse-patient relationship by accepting gifts, loans, or other substantial favors from the patient
  • Working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Stealing prescription drugs for themselves or for others
  • Failing to follow required procedures for patient reporting or care

These are some of the more specific types of misconduct that can result in a nurse being disciplined in Rhode Island; the BOH has the discretion to pursue misconduct claims for a wide range of conduct that may be detrimental to patient care.

What is the Disciplinary Process for Rhode Island Agency Nurses?

As an agency nurse in Rhode Island, you are subject to the exact same disciplinary procedures as any other type of licensed nurse. The BOH will initially review a misconduct complaint to confirm that it covers the type of conduct that the BOH and BNR regulate – as noted above, things like billing disputes and personality conflicts are not patient care issues that can result in professional discipline in Rhode Island.

When the complaint does allege misconduct that the BOH regulates, it will be assigned to investigators working with the BNR. In extreme cases of very serious misconduct that may put patients in immediate danger, the BNR may take action even without a detailed investigation being completed and may issue a “summary suspension” against the nurse that will continue indefinitely through the investigation and formal misconduct process.

In other cases, the investigator will review the allegations in the misconduct complaint and will interview both the person who filed it and the nurse named in the complaint. The nurse's co-workers may also be interviewed, and subpoenas may be issued for relevant documents. When the investigation is complete, the BNR will review it and determine whether to bring formal charges against the nurse.

If the BNR brings charges, and those charges can't be resolved by an agreement between the nurse and the BNR (as many misconduct complaints are), the matter will proceed to a hearing before the BNR that will follow Rhode Island's Administrative Procedures laws and DOH procedural rules.

Rhode Island BNR Agency Nurse Hearing Procedures

If the disciplinary complaint cannot be resolved through negotiation with a consent order, it will go to a hearing. The BNR will set the hearing date, which may be able to be changed based on mutual agreement between the BNR and your attorney. Hearings are closed to the public, unless you request otherwise.

Before the hearing, you can ask the BNR board to issue subpoenas for documents or witnesses that you believe may help your case. At the hearing, you have the right to be represented by an attorney. You can respond to evidence introduced by the BNR, introduce your own evidence in your defense, cross-examine the BNR's witnesses, and present your own witnesses.

While it may “feel” like a formal court proceeding, according to Rhode Island law, the BNR board that hears the misconduct complaint isn't required to follow “strict rules of procedure or by the law of evidence.”

The BNR is required to complete the investigation and hearing process within six months of when the complaint was filed, but can extend this under certain circumstances. If the BNR finds against you, it may revoke or suspend your license, or may “otherwise discipline” you.

Appeals of Misconduct Findings After a Hearing

It is possible to appeal the BNR decision after a disciplinary hearing. Appeals must be filed with the superior court within 30 days of when the decision is mailed by the BNR. Appeals have their own requirements that must be followed if they're to be effective, and will generally not re-litigate the misconduct case. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you if you believe the BNR made any legal errors in the course of your disciplinary hearing, even if we did not represent you during the hearing itself.

Rhode Island BNR Consent Agreements

In many cases, the nurse and the BNR are able to agree on a way to resolve the misconduct complaint, but a hearing is not necessary. These agreements typically take the form of consent agreements where the parties agree on a certain description of the facts and how the misconduct complaint is to be resolved. Working with an experienced professional license defense attorney can help in these kinds of situations. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has the background and understanding of nurse disciplinary requirements and proceedings in Rhode Island to effectively and forcefully negotiate on your behalf in cases where a consent agreement appears to be the best way to resolve your misconduct case.

Why You Need an Agency Nurse Defense Attorney in Rhode Island

When you're facing a disciplinary investigation or charges that could result in your nursing license being suspended or revoked in Rhode Island, or in probationary terms that would make it difficult or impossible for you to continue working as an agency nurse, you need the help of an experienced attorney who understands the misconduct rules that apply to nurses in the state. That is the best way to make sure your rights are respected throughout the entire process and to have the benefit of working with someone who understands the investigation, negotiation, and hearing processes.

Working with the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team also means you'll have someone on your side who understands what your needs as an agency or travel nurse are, and can work to make sure that your case resolves itself in a way that has as little an impact on your work as possible.

How an Agency Nurse Defense Attorney Helps in Rhode Island

If you retain the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team as soon as you are notified that a complaint has been filed against you in Rhode Island, we can help in the following ways:

  • Preparing you for the unfamiliar process of being interviewed by an investigator, and being with you at the interview to make sure the questions are clear and fair
  • Negotiating your case with the BNR, in particular, exploring a resolution that will allow you to continue to work as an agency nurse
  • Conducting an investigation on your behalf where that may be fruitful
  • Aggressively and fairly defending you at a hearing
  • Filing and arguing an appeal in situations where errors were made during the hearing stage

Working with one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can make a significant difference in the outcome of your disciplinary matter in Rhode Island.

The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help You Protect Your Nursing License in Rhode Island

The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has helped nurses and other medical professionals in Rhode Island and all across the country protect their professional licenses when misconduct complaints have been filed against them. We understand the laws, rules, and regulations that apply to nurses in Rhode Island and are ready to defend your rights when misconduct allegations happen.

Contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team if you've been notified that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you. We can be reached at 888.535.3686 or through our contact form. Your nursing license is the key to your career; let us help you protect it.


Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to answering your questions about Physician License Defense, Nursing License Defense, Pharmacist License Defense, Psychologist and Psychiatrist License Defense, Dental License Defense, Chiropractic License Defense, Real Estate License Defense, Professional Counseling License Defense, and Other Professional Licenses law issues nationwide.
The Lento Law Firm will gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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