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Nurses-turned-attorneys have unique insight

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Attorney Lorie Brown says nurses may not understand the many rules that affect their licenses. A mistake on the job or failure to disclose a prior disciplinary action – even something as innocuous as a reprimand for being tardy – could lead to suspension or revocation of their licenses.

Brown was a nurse for 12 years before becoming a lawyer. Now, she hopes to help nurses avoid some of the common mistakes that could land them in litigation.

lorie brown Lorie Brown has combined her skills as an attorney with her knowledge of the nursing profession to create the Nurse Protection Association. (IL photo/Perry Reichanadter)

“Ultimately, I want to be a voice for nurses,” Brown said, adding that in the health care industry, nurses are “80 percent of the workforce but have zero percent of the power.”

A resource

Brown used to represent nurses in hearings before the state nursing board, but she quickly realized that many nurses cannot afford to hire an attorney. So two years ago, she created the Nurse Protection Association. Members pay a fee – between $15 and $30 monthly or $147 to $297 yearly, depending on their current professional status – which goes into a fund that enables Brown to offer legal advice to all members without charging a retainer. The association’s approximately 100 members share equally in paying for legal services.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 2, Brown said 32 complaints against nurses had already been filed with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General.

In the past, nurses primarily ran into trouble due to misappropriating medication, Brown said. And a quick glance at nurse complaints on the Indiana Professional Licensing Board’s webpage shows that trend has continued. But often, Brown also finds that nurses make mistakes when filling out applications to renew their licenses.

“Nurses don’t understand the laws that regulate their practice. For example, on the license renewal form the nurse has to fill out every two years, a question specifically says: Have you been disciplined and terminated in your capacity as a registered nurse in the past two years,” she said. Answering that incorrectly constitutes material misrepresentation, Brown said.

Other problems may arise when nursing staffs are stretched too thin to appropriately meet the needs of patients.

Staffing shortages

Wilson Kehoe Winingham attorney Kelly Scanlan was a nurse before she became an attorney, and she said one of the hardest parts of her job in health care was not being able to count on having the proper resources.

She thought nurses were being asked “to do more with less” and that patients – and nurses’ licenses – could be in jeopardy as a result. When she became an attorney, she realized that hunch was correct.

“Working under short-staffed conditions or maybe not having the supplies you need all the time is dangerous,” Scanlan said. “What I realized is that nurses aren’t really focused on protecting their licenses – they are focused on caring for their patients and doing more with less.”

Staffing shortages also forced nurses to take on a lot of administrative work, Scanlan said. She saw the focus shift from patients to paperwork, as harried nurses tried to communicate from shift to shift what each patient needed.

“I don’t know if anybody ever asked me if mom was bonding with baby,” she said. “Good bonding and patient care between patient and nurse really gets lost in the shuffle when you have to keep up with all of that.”

Attorney Lara Engelking is also a former nurse. She is managing partner of Engelking Law Group and is the director of health care litigation services for Caitlin Morgan Insurance Services. In that role, she has become familiar with problems inherent in some nursing homes.

“Sometimes, regulatory agencies cite facilities for things that affect a particular nurse, and then she needs some type of licensure counseling,” Engelking said. “Nurses definitely need to be conscious of the environment they’re working in.”

Scanlan said that in any work environment where nurses struggle with demands caused by inadequate staffing, they must be especially vigilant.

“I think when it comes to some of these things that require corner-cutting, nurses say, I just don’t have any choice,” she said.

A natural connection

The professions of nursing and law share some similarities, and that’s why Scanlan, Brown and Engelking easily transitioned from one occupation to the other.

Scanlan said people depend on nurses and attorneys to help guide them through unfamiliar situations.

“Just the knowledge helps put people at ease so much, and that’s true in nursing and in being at attorney,” she said.

The two professions also can involve stressful situations that contribute to substance abuse problems, which may in turn lead to disciplinary actions for nurses or attorneys. Just like the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers handle problems with addiction, the Indiana State Nurses Assistance Program can help nurses regain control of their lives so they can continue working.

“Nurses suffer from stress and burnout just like attorneys do,” Brown said. Unlike JLAP, however, she said ISNAP’s focus is solely on substance abuse. She would like to see more efforts to help nurses with psychological concerns.

Brown hopes that by providing information to members of the Nurse Protection Association, she can help them avoid some of the pitfalls of the profession. Her website features articles and news that she feels nurses need to know, and will soon feature interactive user forums, where nurses can engage in discussion.

“Everybody knows a nurse, and nurses are the most trusted profession, so if we can get the word out to help them, that’s what I want,” Brown said.•
 

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  • RN
    I am experience nurse of 11 years and work on an IMCU with kidney and heart problems. Very stressful floor and now we turned to computers it is even more stressful. I have Multiple Sclersis and the stress is awlful to my disease. I have short term FMLA which I believe can help a lot of nurses that are in the same situation. I feel though I get the worst patients on the floor while others get less. I constantly running around while others are sitting. I suffer from chonic fatique so I'm always tired but my patients love me. Thank for listening Frankie.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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