Alcohol and substance abuse can affect anyone. You might think you should be immune or held to a higher standard as a medical professional. Still, that way of thinking is unfair and unhealthy and contributes further to the stigma against nurses suffering from alcohol and substance abuse. While being a nurse is always an incredibly stressful job, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath caused unusually high stress and trauma for those in the medical field. With such a serious trauma, it is no wonder and even understandable that studies are revealing that the number of nurses facing substance abuse is on the rise. Illinois nurses are certainly no exception.
If you are an Illinois nurse battling alcohol or substance abuse, you could be facing serious professional and legal trouble. You are likely terrified of having your Illinois nursing license suspended or revoked through disciplinary action against you. In Illinois, there is an alternative substance abuse program that may be available to you. This program has benefits and downsides, but the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team knows the benefits and concerns of the program. We can help you assess your eligibility and whether the program is a good option for your health, well-being, and career. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or schedule your consultation online.
Illinois Nurse Regulatory Body
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is the regulatory agency responsible for the licensure and discipline of those in professions that require a professional license. They regulate various professions, from acupuncturists to mortgage brokers, nail technicians, and, of course, nurses and other medical professionals.
The Illinois Board of Nursing is housed with IDFPR; licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), and advanced practice nurses fall under its purview. The Board of Nursing is comprised of 13 members: four advanced practical nurses, three nursing educator representatives, two registered nurses, one licensed practice nurse, one nursing administrator, one nurse, and one member of the public. The Board of Nursing has numerous responsibilities, such as making recommendations on adopting and revising nursing-related rules and regulations pursuant to the Illinois Nursing Practice Act, conducting disciplinary hearings and conferences, and recommending the approval or denial of nursing education programs.
It is under the authority of the Board of Nursing to take disciplinary action against nurses and their licenses, including a formal reprimand, probation, suspension, or revocation. However, not all actions taken by the Board of Nursing in response to misconduct require formal disciplinary action. The Board of Nursing has the authority under the Illinois Nursing Practice Act to, under certain circumstances, take a non-disciplinary approach to nurses suffering from substance abuse disorders through a professional assistance program for nurses. This program will be discussed in more detail in the sections below.
Illinois Nursing Laws
Like every other state in the country, Illinois has its own law on nursing, the Illinois Nursing Practice Act. The law establishes professional, ethical, and legal standards for practicing nurses and healthcare professionals.
Notification of Nurse Substance Abuse to IDFPR and the Illinois Board of Nursing
There are a few ways that your substance abuse can come to the attention of the Board of Nursing. It is common for a nurse's substance abuse to be reported by another nurse who is a colleague. This is not just because the nurse is looking out for the safety and well-being of the patients in your care or because they have malicious feelings toward you. The reason for another nurse reporting you is mainly because they are legally obligated to report under the Illinois Nursing Practice Act. The law requires “any nurse who is an administrator or officer in any hospital, nursing home, other health care agency or facility, or nurse agency and has knowledge of any action or condition which reasonably indicated that a registered professional nurse or licensed practical nurse is impaired due to the use of alcohol or mood-altering drugs, to the extent that such impairment adversely affects such nurse's professional performance.”
Aside from colleagues, the public, such as patients and their families and friends, can report a nurse's suspected or actual substance abuse to the Board of Nursing. There is one final pathway to the Board of Nursing finding out about your substance abuse disorder, and that is self-reporting.
How the Board of Nursing becomes aware of your substance abuse disorder is incredibly important because it can be the determining factor in whether the Board of Nursing will take disciplinary action against you or if it will let you enter a professional assistance program for nurses instead of receiving disciplinary action.
Eligibility for the Professional Assistance Program for Nurses and Care, Counseling, and Treatment Agreements
As mentioned above, there are specific situations in which the Board of Nursing can pursue alternative action for a nurse's substance abuse disorder that does not involve disciplinary action. Under the Illinois Nurse Practice Act, the IDFPR and the Board of Nursing must have a care program, counseling, and treatment program for impaired nurses. This program is referred to in the law as the professional assistance program for nurses.
Also, as briefly mentioned above, whether you have self-reported your substance abuse disorder matters as it is one of the eligibility requirements for the Board of Nursing, permitting you to enter a professional assistance program for nurses and subsequent care, counseling, and treatment agreement (CCT). A CCT is a confidential agreement between the nurse and IDFPR where the nurse seeks recommended treatment. Under a CCT, the nurse may continue to practice, and their license will not be impacted so long as they comply with the terms of the agreement. The contents of the CCT agreement and the Nursing Self Report Form are kept confidential unless the nurse violates the terms of their CCT.
For a nurse to qualify for a CCT, they must meet all the following requirements:
- You self-reported your issue before IDFPR has filed a formal complaint.
- You have no prior disciplinary action against you regarding substance abuse.
- You have not been convicted criminally of any felony or drug-related misdemeanor, and no criminal action is pending.
- You have acknowledged your addiction or chemical dependence.
- You have submitted to an alcohol substance abuse assessment as required by IDFPR and are following the recommendations of the assessment.
What is an Alcohol or Substance Abuse Assessment, and How Do They Work?
IDFPR defines an alcohol or substance abuse assessment as “an evaluation by a physician who is a certified addictionist or an advanced practice registered nurse with specialty certification in addiction." Unfortunately, your primary care physician, who you likely have a long-standing relationship with and trust, likely cannot be the one to conduct your assessment (unless you are lucky and they are also certified as an addictionist). To be considered a certified addictionist, they must have completed certification through either the Addictions Nursing Certification Board or the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association.
Finding a physician or advanced practice nurse with certification in addiction is not always easy, but the Illinois Professionals Health Program can assist you in finding a provider. The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Board of Addiction Medicine also have search functions that allow you to identify qualified providers in your area.
Unfortunately, these assessments can be costly, generally between $250 and $500. You are responsible for the cost of the assessment, but it may be covered by insurance. Contacting your provider before your scheduled alcohol or substance abuse assessment can help you gain clarity on your financial responsibility.
How Nurse Substance Abuse Self-Reporting Works
Under the Illinois Nurse Practice Act, you are required to disclose your substance abuse disorder to the Board of Nursing. IDFPR recommends any nurse with an alcohol or substance abuse addiction or chemical dependence who diverted drugs or tested positive for illicit or illegal drugs self-report immediately.
There isn't always a precipitating event; sometimes, a nurse will conclude on their own that their alcohol or drug dependence is negatively impacting their life or ability to practice. A specific event often pushes a nurse to come forward and self-report. These events can include near misses of accidents in the workplace or in the real world, such as a near car accident or a car accident in which they were lucky enough to avoid criminal charges for a drug or alcohol-related offense. Self-reporting can even result from a colleague threatening that "either you report yourself or I will." Regardless of what prompted you to come forward, you should not self-report without fully understanding what you need to report and the consequences of putting forth this information. Your Lento Law Firm attorney can provide all the details, but some information is also provided here.
When self-reporting, the nurse must include if any adverse action has been taken against them in any other jurisdiction in which they are licensed or practicing nursing. Any other jurisdiction includes many locations and entities, including any US state, another country, a peer-reviewed body, a healthcare institution, a professional nursing association, government agencies, law enforcement agencies, or a court. The nurse must additionally report any actions against their license or the voluntary surrender of their license or membership in a nursing staff or professional association.
Self-reporting can be done in two ways: through calling IDFPR at 888-535-3686 or completing and submitting the Nursing Self Report Form. You should never submit a self-report without first consulting with your Lento Law Firm attorney. While submitting the form may seem like the path of least resistance and your key to a CCT, the situation is a bit more complicated. You are admitting to guilt through the self-reporting process, which can have consequences down the line.
IDFPR and the Board of Nursing may seem sympathetic to your substance abuse disorder, but you are not guaranteed a CCT. You are admitting you are guilty, which can be used against you if a disciplinary action is brought instead. Weighing the pros and cons with your Lento Law Firm attorney is a must. Your attorney has seen how self-reporting and CCTs go in practice, not just in theory, as presented by IDFPR and the Board of Nursing. You need all the facts before you can make an educated decision as to whether to self-report.
What Happens After an Illinois Nurse Submits Their Nursing Self-Report Form?
After you have self-reported, IDFPR will contact you via the email address and phone number you have provided to discuss the next steps. This typically will be a meeting with an IDFPR attorney and a member of the Nursing Board. You are entitled to an attorney through every step of the process and should employ this right. Just because IDFPR and the Board of Nursing seem like they are trying to help you, they do not represent you. It is their duty to uphold public health and safety, not look out for your best interests, health, and successful substance abuse recovery. The Lento Law Firm is on your side; our sole job is to advocate for you and guide you in making the best decisions for your health and your nursing license.
What are the Pros and Cons of Entering a Care, Counseling, and Treatment Agreement?
There are many factors to consider when deciding if a CCT agreement is right for you. When meeting with your Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense attorney, we can talk you through all the pros and cons of your specific case, but here are a few general pros and cons to keep in mind.
CCT agreements under the professional assistance program for nurses typically require rehabilitation or treatment. If you are serious about and ready to treat your substance abuse disorder, getting this help without losing your nursing license can be a great option. You deserve to get all of the health and rehabilitation services necessary to treat your substance abuse disorder and get back to work feeling healthier and better equipped to handle the underlying stresses contributing to your substance abuse disorder.
While entering a CCT agreement is an admission of guilt, it isn't associated with malice or an accident that caused harm to a patient. It can be less damaging than disciplinary action for your personal and professional reputation, leading to you receiving more emotional support from friends, family, and colleagues as you get the treatment you need. Because CCT agreements are confidential, you can control who is aware of your situation in your personal and professional circles. While colleagues might know you have taken some time off, you don't have to face the stigma of them being away. It was for substance abuse treatment.
Likely, your CCT agreement will include some form of structured monitoring in your place of employment. While no one likes to feel like their every move is being monitored, this can be a positive. Frequent checking-in and monitoring can help hold you accountable to your substance abuse treatment plan and encourage your ongoing recovery.
Lastly, you will preserve your nursing license in good standing and employment opportunities, at least permitting you not to violate your CCT agreement.
While you are keeping your nursing license under a CCT agreement, there tend to be more strings attached than meet the eye. When entering the professional assistance program for nurses, IDFPR paints the picture that you get a slap on the wrist, no long-term licensure consequences, no expensive, long, or painful disciplinary process, and no public disclosure of your substance abuse disorder, all in exchange for treatment to make you a healthier person and better nurse. In life, and in this situation, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Once your CCT agreement is in place, it can be difficult to get back to normal; even once you have completed many short-term requirements, such as a rehabilitation program, long-term requirements can still loom.
Both the short-term and long-term requirements of your CCT agreement can affect your current employment. Keeping your license and keeping your job are two separate things. If your CCT agreement requires in-patient or out-patient substance abuse treatment, the time commitment associated with both can impact your ability to meet the demands of your job. You may need to take extensive time off, potentially exceeding the leave you have available under your terms of employment. You may also be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings regularly, also impacting your work and potential family obligations. Your employer has no obligation to keep you on payroll while you pursue treatment.
The restrictions of your CCT agreement may also involve restrictions on which tasks you can perform on the job, including which medications you are authorized to handle. The inability to do your job at full capacity can concern your employer. By needing other nurses to supervise you or take over responsibilities you cannot perform under your CCT agreement, your employer may feel inconvenienced and deterred from continuing your employment.
Unfortunately, finances might be a significant factor in entering a CCT agreement. While the IDFPR and Board of Nursing can require you to participate in a substance abuse rehabilitation treatment program, you alone are financially responsible. Substance abuse rehabilitation and treatment programs can cost thousands of dollars. Each individual insurance plan will have its own requirements for accessing treatment and have different treatment options that are covered or excluded from their plans. Contacting your insurance to understand what treatments are available to you allows you to inform IDFPR and The Board of Nursing ahead of their development of a CCT agreement.
Are There Any Alternatives to a CCT Agreement That Preserves My Nursing License?
The Nursing Practice Act allows an alternative to CCT agreements and the formal disciplinary process. If you remain employed at your current workplace and your employer has agreed to monitor you. At the same time, you participate in professional counseling or medical treatment; your employer is not required to file a complaint with IDFPR. This is the best-case scenario, but you should still retain a Lento Law Firm attorney if things go south. Your employer could change their mind at the moment and terminate you, particularly if they notice a relapse or you take a break from treatment.
You can go through the formal disciplinary channels if you have been terminated and don't want to pursue a CCT agreement. This can be a bit of a gamble, particularly if you truly have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder, as opposed to a one-off driving while under the influence incident. In some of these one-off cases, it may be better to go through the full disciplinary process, including a hearing (which works similarly to a trial), where you can tell your side of the story and convince IDFPR and the Board of Nursing that you do not have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder and are not a threat to the safety and well-being of the patients in your care. While disciplinary action against your license is possible, it may be a better option than admitting guilt through a CCT agreement and facing years of requirements and entanglement with IDFPR and the Board of Nursing. Your Lento Law Firm attorney will discuss all these options with you in more detail.
The Illinois Professionals Health Program (IPHP), discussed briefly above regarding alcohol and substance abuse assessments, can be a great resource and particularly useful before taking any self-reporting action. The Illinois Professionals Health Program provides confidential consultations, support, and case management services to Illinois healthcare professionals. The organization focuses on professionals facing substance abuse disorder, mental health and behavioral health problems, and other conditions. IPHP is subject to federal confidentiality law, meaning you can speak freely about your substance abuse disorder, even if it involves situations like stealing pills from work. You can call them any time and even remain anonymous.
Retain the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are an Illinois nurse dealing with the struggles of alcohol or substance abuse, the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team can help. We want what is best for you and your nursing license. We have helped numerous Illinois nurses weigh the pros and cons of participating in nursing substance abuse programs and have seen many successful outcomes. Let us help you; call us today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.