A reader, who was concerned about being called before her state board of nursing to answer allegations of being under the influence of alcohol when she reported to work, asked me whether she should sign a consent agreement with the board of nursing or seek a hearing to contest the allegations. The nurse denies the allegations.
This nurse should not make a decision about allegations forwarded to a state board of nursing until consulting with a nurse attorney or attorney in her state who can review the details and can specifically advise her of the legal options. Based on that advice, the nurse can decide whether a consent agreement or a hearing is in her best interests. Legal representation in either case would be a must.
Consent agreements can be beneficial in many ways. First, such a resolution is more cost-effective. However, it is important to keep in mind the agreement will require the nurse to admit to the allegations reported to the board and, if possible, include any mitigating factors that might place the violation in a more favorable light.
For example, this nurse stated that she had a glass of wine with a meal before reporting to work because she was depressed over a friend’s death. She said she drank it without thinking about it and without thinking that she needed to go to work that day.
The board may or may not see these circumstances as mitigating, but her attorney will probably encourage her to raise them and emphasize to the board that, if true, this is the first time such a thing has happened, that it will not happen again and that she has no history of alcohol abuse.
Entering into a consent agreement is usually a more informal resolution to a case (although this is not always the case). For example, although a nurse licensee must sign the agreement, agree to its accuracy and accept its terms and conditions, the negotiations leading up to a consent agreement are not under oath.
A hearing, in contrast to an agreed consent order, is expensive, takes more time and allows the board to present witnesses. Also, any testimony is taken under oath. Clearly, it also is much more adversarial.
In either case, if discipline is imposed, such as placing a nurse on probation or requiring the nurse to take a remedial course, the discipline is a matter of public record, unless the consent agreement is a confidential one.
Because one’s very livelihood and professional reputation is at stake in any board of nursing proceeding, obtaining legal advice and legal representation are priorities. Along with the attorney, the nurse can decide what is in her best interests.
You can read more about discipline by a state board of nursing, including formal and informal proceedings, at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website. •
NOTE: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice.
View the continuing education module “Protect yourself: Know your nurse practice act” by Nancy Brent, MS, JD, RN, for more information on your rights and responsibilities.