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Board of Nursing Investigations: Survival Tips

One of the most sensitive relationships an advanced practice nurse (APN) holds in Ohio is with the Ohio Board of Nursing (“Board”). The Board holds regulatory authority over all Ohio licensed and certified APNs, registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and, most recently, dialysis technicians. It exists solely to enforce laws and rules that regulate the nursing profession in Ohio, and its top priorities are to efficiently license nurses in Ohio and to protect Ohio patients from dangerous practitioners. Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in disciplinary actions pursued by Ohio’s licensing boards, including the Ohio Board of Nursing. Between 2009 and 2011, the Board received 7,726 complaints including those related to substandard practice, drug theft, substance abuse, and patient abuse. Further, the approximately 2,503 licensees and certificate holders who were disciplined were assigned to Board staff for monitoring in 2010.

The following are a few survival tips if you ever have the misfortune of experiencing a Board investigation.

(1) Consult legal counsel

One of the biggest mistakes APNs make is failing to seek legal counsel or seeking legal counsel after the Board has rendered a decision. While you should at all times be respectful to and cooperative with the Board of Nursing, there are several legal issues including timing, requests, motions, evidentiary, and appellate issues that need to be addressed. Legal counsel should also provide assistance with appropriate communications with the Board. Due to the procedures surrounding a Board investigation and disciplinary action, it is important to seek the appropriate assistance at the very beginning of an investigation rather than wait until after discipline is finalized. The Board will be represented by an attorney and so should you.

(2) Be honest and candid

When making its final decision, the Board will consider how you cooperated and whether you were deceptive. Honesty is always the best policy.

(3) Answer the questions being asked

When being interviewed by the Board, it is important to listen carefully to the questions being asked. By failing to listen and panicking, many APNs find themselves exacerbating issues that may have had cleaner resolutions. It is important to answer the question which is actually asked in a straightforward and concise manner.

(4) Know your rights

Before you can be disciplined by the Board, you are usually entitled to notice and a fair hearing. There are many deadlines that each party must meet, and cases can be won or lost on procedural issues. Additionally, there are specific appeal procedures which must be followed if you disagree with any assertions made by the Board against you or the discipline given by the Board. Know your rights so that you are adequately protected.

(5) Ask all your questions before signing anything

Read all documents closely and make sure that you understand the contents and impact of anything you are asked to sign. Your legal counsel should educate you and help you to make decisions regarding whether to sign anything. Many APNs find themselves in difficult situations when they sign a discipline agreement (often called a consent agreement) which details their discipline, but they don’t understand the practical implications of it. Generally, signing a final consent agreement means that you waive any remaining appeal rights. As such, it is imperative that you explore all options and appeal rights prior to agreeing to a final disciplinary agreement.

This article is only meant for educational purposes and should not be considered to be legal advice for a specific set of circumstances. Each particular set of facts may contain nuances not discussed by this article.

As always, please call should you have any questions. I can be reached at 330-253-2001 or via email at jmsingleton@bmdllc.com.

Jeana M. Singleton is an attorney at Brennan, Manna & Diamond, LLC in Akron, Ohio. Ms. Singleton serves as general counsel for the Ohio Association of Advanced Practice Nurses.

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