The Voluntary Recovery Program is an opt-in program for health professionals in Pennsylvania who suffer from a diagnosed mental or physical disorder, such as a substance abuse disorder, and whose professional license is consequently under threat. Health practitioners going through formal disciplinary action with their licensing board can be referred to the Voluntary Recovery Program. Those enrolled in this program are referred to appropriate treatment and structured monitoring to ensure that they can safely practice as a licensed medical professional.
Cooperation with the Voluntary Recovery Program can be an option to save your professional license. Those participating in the program will not otherwise face disciplinary action while they go through treatment and assessment. However, they may not accept or continue employment in a licensed role until their treatment provider and case manager clears them to do so.
The Voluntary Recovery Program is a long-term commitment, lasting at least three years, but can be a saving grace for professionals who otherwise face the devastating loss of their professional licenses, and with it, their hard-won career and livelihood.
What does the Voluntary Recovery Program involve?
Licensing boards have very exacting standards to ensure the safety of patients, and consequently, the Voluntary Recovery Program is a rigorous and lengthy probationary program.
In order to enroll in the program, practitioners will first be evaluated to confirm their diagnosed mental or physical disorder and then have to join an approved treatment plan.
To join the program, you will need to enter into a Consent Agreement. Under this agreement, you will be consenting to three years of careful monitoring.
You will work under probationary terms and conditions, and your work performance will be supervised. Your treatment and recovery progress will be monitored and overseen by a case manager. You will also have to attend a support group.
While on this program, you will have to abstain from all controlled substances, including alcohol, and comply with random drug tests.
Who is Eligible for the Voluntary Recovery Program?
The Voluntary Recovery Program is available for healthcare practitioners suffering from a diagnosed mental or physical disorder, including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors, and other professionals whose license board participates in the VRP program.
To confirm eligibility for the program, a VRP approved provider will evaluate you to verify that the diagnosed mental or physical disorder exists. You will then have to enter into a minimum three-year consent agreement with their licensing board.
Who is Not Eligible for the VRP Program?
Practitioners are not eligible for the Voluntary Recovery Program if they:
- Have a criminal conviction under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
- Have been involved in the sale or distribution of controlled substances.
- Have a history of practice problems indicating significant patient harm.
- Have committed sexual boundary violations.
- Have failed to complete a similar program in another jurisdiction.
The Lento Law Firm can provide professional license defense against a wide range of allegations, including professional misconduct, alleged incompetence, fraud, sexual misconduct, or criminal convictions. However, the Pennsylvania VRP program is only an option for those facing allegations or disciplinary action specific to a diagnosed mental or physical disorder.
Can your Professional License be Revoked if you are on the Program?
Practitioners join the program when their mental or physical disorder has cast their ability to practice as a licensed health professional into doubt.
Suppose you agree to participate in an approved program for your mental or physical disorder and agree to the terms of the VRP consent agreement, including monitoring, workplace supervision, and drug-testing. In that case, your license will not be taken away.
At this time, you will only be able to practice under the conditions and supervision of the Voluntary Recovery Program.
If issues about your performance at work were attributable to your mental or physical disorder, then any disciplinary action will be deferred while you are on the program.
However, this deferral is dependant on your cooperation with the program. Your license will not be suspended or revoked so long as you meet the terms and conditions of your VRP agreement and make satisfactory progress in your recovery program.
If there are further issues in your performance at work, for instance relating to professional misconduct, sexual misconduct, alleged incompetence, fraud, or criminal convictions, you could be removed from the VPR and face disciplinary action, including suspension or revocation of your license.
Restrictions on Working while on the VRP
When you are on the Voluntary Recovery Program, your treatment provider and the program managers will assess your progress on your recovery program. If and when they think you are ready to return to licensed practice, they will allow you to return to work under supervised conditions.
When you return to work, it will be under direct supervision, and your case manager will establish some practical limitations on what you can and cannot do.
Whilst on the Voluntary Recovery Program, without specific written permission, you will be barred from the following:
- Private practice
- Supervisory roles
- Agency nursing
- Nursing in a capacity that involves administering controlled substances for the first six months of your return.
- Practicing in an emergency room, operating room, intensive care unit, cardiac, catheterization laboratory, or coronary care unit.
Your case manager will be able to advise when and under what circumstances you can return to work. If you feel you are making excellent progress, you might be able to appeal for lenience.
Is your Participation in the Voluntary Recovery Program on the Public Record?
While you are on the Voluntary Recovery Program, you will be working under probationary conditions, and supervisors and colleagues will be made aware of your status as is appropriate. However, once you have fulfilled the terms of your VRP consent agreement and completed your three-year program, there will be no public record of your involvement in the VRP or the reports or issues which led to your enrollment.
However, if following your completion of the Voluntary Recovery Program, the license board should investigate any other allegations of misconduct against you, further to those culminating in your enrollment in the VRP program, that will be on public record. Neither will the VRP retroactively clear your record.
For example, suppose your licensing board were to investigate you for professional misconduct and choose not to take your license but to issue a milder penalty, be it a formal reprimand, suspension, fines, restitution, or mandatory course. In that case, any of these sanctions will go on the public record. In this instance, anyone could conduct a simple online search to see if the licensing board has disciplined you. This mark on your record could have severe repercussions for your career prospects.
Which Pennsylvania Licensing Boards Participate in the Voluntary Recovery Program?
The Voluntary Recovery Program is currently available to licensees of the following Pennsylvania State Boards:
- Nursing: RN Law and PN Law
- Occupational Therapy
- Osteopathic Medicine
- Physical Therapy
- Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors
- Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology
- Veterinary Medicine
What happens if you fail to make progress in the Voluntary Recovery Program?
There are several ways you might fail to complete the program successfully. You might:
- Fail to make satisfactory progress in your treatment.
- Fail to attend treatment or professional recovery group support sessions.
- Fail to maintain contact with your case manager.
- Fail a random drug test.
- Break the probationary conditions of your return to work.
- Break any other agreed terms and conditions in your consent agreement.
The Disciplinary Monitoring Unit (DMU) will oversee everything to ensure that you maintain compliance with the probationary terms and conditions imposed by your licensing board.
If any of these things occur, you risk being taken off the Voluntary Recovery Program and facing immediate disciplinary action culminating in the possible revocation of your license.
What are the consequences of being removed from the Voluntary Recovery Program?
While not mandatory, the Voluntary Recovery Program is, in many cases, the only option for health practitioners to keep their licenses. Someone may have made a written complaint about you to the Professional Health Monitoring Programs. This person will suspect you have a mental or physical disorder and report you, for example, for diverting drugs or for a positive drug test result. You may have been referred to the program after formal disciplinary action by your professional licensing board. In these instances, it is possible that the state licensing board sees the Voluntary Recovery Program as the only route to your continuing to practice safely.
If you fail to make progress in your treatment program or comply with the probationary conditions that you are under, the suspension of disciplinary action will end. The licensing board may swiftly decide to revoke your license.
What happens if the licensing board revokes your professional license?
When a state licensing board revokes your professional license, they immediately remove your right to work. The impact of this is obviously extremely far-reaching and, in some cases, irreversible. Getting a license reinstated is an extremely long and difficult process. Those with revoked licenses face the immediate consequences:
- Lost income. There is no specific provision or severance pay for professionals who have lost their licenses. If you lease a private practice or, like anyone, have bills and financial obligations to pay, this can quickly lead to financial difficulties.
- Letting down your patients and clients. Patients who rely on your health services could be left in a difficult position if they are in the middle of a course of treatment you are dispensing. You will need to refer them on to others who can offer similar services not to let them down.
- Trouble finding new work. If you have trained in a highly specialized field, it can be difficult finding appropriate work without your license. Sometimes you might be able to find supportive roles in your field not requiring a license. However, despite your extensive experience, a license revocation on your record will be a hindrance in any job search.
Having your license revoked is a worst-case scenario for many licensed professionals. Any reprimand or disciplinary sanction from the board is on the public record. Any degree of punishment, but particularly the most extreme - revocation - has lasting damage on your professional reputation. Even if your license is reinstated, the reputational damage can weaken your professional credibility, putting off employers and losing clients. If you are going to safeguard your future is vital that you are proactive and put forward a strong defense to the licensing board.
Can You Get Your License Reinstated?
It can be very difficult to find appropriate work if your license is revoked. Most licensing boards require you to wait a number of years before applying for a reinstatement of your license. In the meantime, you will need to see what kind of work is available in your field for non-licensed professionals. Going to another state is typically not an option either, as most state boards will check your record. If one state board revokes your license, that can automatically prevent you from getting licensed in other states.
Most licensing boards require you to wait a number of years before applying for your license to be reinstated. Even if you have succeeded in working within your chosen field, and the time limit on applying for reinstatement has elapsed, there are no guarantees. Reinstatement is a lengthy process, with a lot of hoops to jump through, and licensing boards are not known for necessarily being swift or efficient in their administration. What's more, it is possible that at the end of it, the state licensing board might still deny your license. In any case, your best chances of success are by consulting with an experienced license attorney who can coordinate the application for your license to be reinstated and follow up with this board on the progress of your reinstatement.
What does a Professional License Defense Attorney do?
A professional license defense attorney handles issues of professional licensing.
Professional licensing is administered by state licensing boards. It is your state licensing board that is responsible for approving professional licenses, reviewing and investigating complaints against licensed practitioners, and administering disciplinary procedures.
State licensing boards are a government agency, and as such, they are governed by administrative law. A good professional license defense attorney is an expert in administrative law and will have extensive knowledge of how each of these regulatory boards operates in your state. In practice, this familiarity and experience mean that an experienced defense attorney will generally always negotiate for better terms than you would have been able to secure alone.
It would be wise to hire an experienced professional license defense attorney as soon as you receive notice of a formal complaint against you. By this point, the board will have been investigating you for some time. If you hire an attorney at the beginning of the disciplinary process, you have the best chance of building a strong, successful defense. Indeed, a good license defense attorney can very often negotiate to have the complaint dismissed. This means if you involve a lawyer early on, you might succeed in resolving the matter before it ever reaches the hearing phase. Successful early intervention can stop there from being any formal record of the complaint and forestall any reputational damage to your career.
How could a Professional License Defense Attorney help you if you face disciplinary action?
There are several things a professional license defense attorney can do for you if you are facing a disciplinary hearing with your licensing board. A professional license defense attorney will serve as your official legal representation throughout the process. They can represent you, making contact with the licensing board on your behalf, and guide you through the process from the moment you are informed of a report against you through investigations, hearings, and appeals.
- Coordinate paperwork, fees, and contact with the licensing board.
- Gather evidence and witnesses to build your defense against the complaint.
- Negotiate with the licensing board for dismissal of the complaint.
- Negotiate with the licensing board for a reduction in sanctions.
- Negotiate with the licensing board for disciplinary action to be deferred, and you referred instead onto the Voluntary Recovery Program.
If the worst happens and your license is revoked, an attorney can coordinate your reinstatement application, handle the administrative burden, and put forward your best possible case for reinstatement.
What can a License Defense Attorney do for you if you are entering into the Voluntary Recovery Program?
Before you decide to enter a Voluntary Recovery Program consent agreement, an experienced professional license defense attorney can advise you and negotiate for the best possible terms. Entering into the Voluntary Recovery Program will defer disciplinary action and provide an action plan for maintaining your license to practice. The terms of the Voluntary Recovery Program, including, in particular, the terms of your return to work, can be more or less generous depending on the particulars of your case. An experienced attorney will be able to advise accordingly.
Are you facing disciplinary action with your license board? The Lento Law Firm can help!
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped many clients save their professional licenses by negotiating an agreement on the Voluntary Recovery Program. He understands the inner workings of the Pennsylvania regulatory boards, and he knows how to help you navigate the process to the best possible outcome for you and your career. If your license is in jeopardy, every minute counts. Reclaim your life and your career today. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and evaluate your options.