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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. All the lawyers involved in this don't add up to a hill of beans; mostly yes-men punching their tickets for future advancement. REMF types. Window dressing. Who in this mess was a real hero? the whistleblower that let the public know about the torture, whom the US sent to Jail. John Kyriakou. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/us/ex-officer-for-cia-is-sentenced-in-leak-case.html?_r=0 Now, considering that Torture is Illegal, considering that during Vietnam a soldier was court-martialed and imprisoned for waterboarding, why has the whistleblower gone to jail but none of the torturers have been held to account? It's amazing that Uncle Sam's sunk lower than Vietnam. But that's where we're at. An even more unjust and pointless war conducted in an even more bogus manner. this from npr: "On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier." Today, the US itself has become lawless.

  2. "Brain Damage" alright.... The lunatic is on the grass/ The lunatic is on the grass/ Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs/ Got to keep the loonies on the path.... The lunatic is in the hall/ The lunatics are in my hall/ The paper holds their folded faces to the floor/ And every day the paper boy brings more/ And if the dam breaks open many years too soon/ And if there is no room upon the hill/ And if your head explodes with dark forbodings too/ I'll see you on the dark side of the moon!!!

  3. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  4. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  5. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

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