Protecting Your Nursing License During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed one of the greatest safety threats to nurses in the recent history of the profession. A nationwide shortage of PPE, conflicting advice and treatment guidelines that leave nurses vulnerable and exposed to unnecessary risk, and a public distrust of healthcare professionals have put nurses in a dangerous place.
However, the risks don’t stop once nurses leave their facility. A massive surge of cases in hospitals throughout the country has also left nurses vulnerable to nursing board complaints that could cost their licenses. What are your rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how do you assert them? Learn more now, and if you are facing allegations, contact Forshier Law to talk about your legal options and protect your nursing license.
Complaints Against You
Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and other medical personnel across Minnesota fear an uptick in patient complaints as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has stretched many healthcare systems to or beyond their limits, causing nurses to get assigned unmanageable caseloads, assigned to departments in which they have minimal experience, or tasked with providing care for a disease that the world is still learning about.
To prevent complaints, it is important to stand firm against demands to work in unsafe environments. If you are assigned an impossible caseload, you can refuse to accept it because it puts your patients’ safety at risk. This may be an unpopular decision, particularly if your workplace has an “all hands on deck” approach to the pandemic and everyone is doing more than they truly should be in order to take care of patients. This is an individual decision, and one that neither your licensing board nor your coworkers can make for you.
If you do continue to work under less-than-ideal circumstances throughout the pandemic—a choice that many nurses are making, as evidenced by articles detailing nurses’ 80-100 hour workweeks—document your work conditions thoroughly. Keep track of staffing levels, PPE availability, patient load, and other factors affecting your work. If you do receive allegations from the Board of Nursing, you will have evidence to provide to your nursing license lawyer.
Taking Precautions to Protect Your License
It is difficult to stand up to administrators and others in your workplace, but doing so may help you avoid complaints and prevent unsafe work assignments. Ensure that you have proper PPE every time you work. This is one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic, but working without the proper safety equipment puts you at serious risk of contracting COVID-19. Furthermore, it puts you in a position where you could transmit the disease to other patients. Refusing to work in an unsafe environment is not a selfish choice; it is one that protects you, your license, and the patients you serve. Always report unsafe conditions in writing (email) up the chain of command. Keep a copy of the email for your records. If you are called before the Board of Nursing, you must show what steps you took to alleviate the unsafe situation.
You may also want to get more involved with your union and local nursing organizations. They are an excellent resource for healthcare professionals faced with impossible choices, and in many cases, they are in a better position to demand changes than individual nurses are.
Refusing to Work in an Unsafe Environment
Throughout the course of the pandemic, you may find yourself asked to work in an environment that you know is unsafe. You may be asked to work with more patients on ventilators than you can safely manage, or you may be assigned to a high-stress, fast-paced department you have never worked in before. While refusing to take an unsafe assignment may put your job at risk, continuing to work in an unsafe environment could put your nursing license at risk.
Consider the dangers you face if your work environment is unsafe and you stay to provide whatever care you can to your patients. For example: if you work in a nursing home that suffers a massive COVID-19 outbreak and you are working 16 hours per day with only a cloth mask for PPE, the nursing home itself will likely come under investigation. Investigations often uncover wrongdoing by multiple staff members. Legally, there is little you can do to dispute these claims if your only defense is that you could not do more because you didn’t have the necessary support. Rather than facing the just the loss of a job, you could be contemplating a future without a nursing license.
Responding to Allegations
If allegations do arise as a result of the pandemic, don’t panic. You will be among many other nurses who have been maligned for doing the best they can in a situation they did not create. However, do not trust the situation to work out on its own. You absolutely must take this seriously and protect yourself with an attorney who knows license defense law. Consult with an attorney as soon as possible, since allegations often have a tight response deadline. Your attorney can help you draft your response or request an extension.
The team at Forshier Law is devoted to helping nurses and other hardworking healthcare professionals respond to allegations from licensing boards. Barb Forshier, a nurse with over 35 years of experience, focuses her entire practice on the needs of healthcare professionals. The stress you are going through is symptomatic of systemic issues within healthcare that place enormous stress on care providers without concern for their needs and limitations. You do not have to face allegations alone, and if you want to protect your nursing license, you should not take on allegations by yourself. We are here to help. We fight passionately for our clients throughout the entire process. To discuss the allegations against you and plan your next step, contact us today to set up a consultation. Call Forshier Law or get in touch online to get started.