Legal Corner: When You Get That Dreaded Call

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by Don Eddins, JD

When a registered nurse asks me about a licensure matter, I attempt to convey to the RN in the strongest of terms that his/her license was hard-earned and forms the basis for the nursing professional’s livelihood.

Therefore, we take every complaint, regardless how seemingly trivial, very seriously. I emphasize to the nurse that he/she should do nothing to jeopardize it.

Licensure and  BON

Nurses who have come into contact with the Alabama Board of Nursing (BON) sometimes complain that the BON staff takes the position that the nurse is guilty of a practice violation until she can prove herself innocent. Some BON staff members could use refresher courses in diplomacy, no doubt. But if you are called before the BON staff, having your facts and figures in order can alleviate a lot of stress.

Licensure issues fall under the Nurse Practice Act, which is found at § 34-21-1 through 34-21-63, Code of Alabama 1975. The portion of the law relating to suspension and revocation is at § 34-21-25, Alabama Code. On the basis of the act, BON has approved regulations for administration of the Nurse Practice Act. Those regulations are at 610-x-1 through 610-x-13, Alabama Administrative Code. Pertinent laws can be found on the BON website.

My advice to nurses is to familiarize themselves with the law. Also, know the policies and procedures that govern the particular institution where you work. Protocol for handling issues differs among medical facilities.

The One Thing I Stress

If there is one thing that I stress, whether it’s in this column or speaking to a group, it is to use common sense in all that you do. If you have a question about whether you should do something, then most often you should not do it.

An example I often give is to refrain from pre-charting. If you are to administer medications at a particular time, be certain your chart verifies that the meds were dispensed. But don’t enter at 11:00 a.m. that a particular med was given at 2:00 p.m.

Pre-charting can get nurses into trouble. What if the RN states that the 2:00 p.m. med was given, but is called out on an emergency at noon? The problem is obvious. Additionally, what should the next shift nurse do? Dispense the meds at 2:00 p.m. or assume that they had been given at 11;00, as stated in the chart?

And be careful what you chart. If you state that the patient was very lethargic, common sense would dictate that you chart follow-ups — checks to ensure the patient is alright.

If You Get That Dreaded Call

I’m honored to represent registered nurses here in Alabama as the attorney for ASNA. I have enormous respect for the nursing profession and will fight for nurses with every ounce of energy I can muster. Yet if nurses use common sense and do their jobs as they have been taught, such intervention normally will be unnecessary.

But if you do get the dreaded call from BON, and you are a member of ASNA, the ordeal can be considerably less stressful because I will represent you free of charge on any licensure issue that occurs while you are a member. So, if you are not a member, that is a good reason to become one today—because you cannot wait until a complaint is filed to join ASNA and still enjoy this free representation, no more than you can wait until you have had an accident and expect to be covered.